Espanyol summer acquisition Esteban Granero has revealed the first time he clapped eyes on a teenage Lionel Messi whilst participating in a tournament with Real Madrid – who were staying in the same hotel as Barcelona in Villarreal – claiming that he thought Gerard Pique was having him on about the young Argentine’s uncanny ability to leave defenders bewildered.
Granero was and presumably still is good friends with a number of players in the Spanish youth set-up during his formative years at Los Blancos, including Pique, who saw Messi as the Blaugrana’s secret weapon in beating Madrid, a feat which was a tough accomplishment back in the day for Barca.
The 30-year-old explains that ‘prankster’ Pique was ‘winding him up’ about the groundbreaking talents which Messi had in his developing locker, although according to an interview the midfielder gave to El Pais (via Sport), he was very sorely mistaken.
“We’re from the 1987 team, so I have known him for 15 years. We went to a tournament in Villarreal with [Real] Madrid and we were in the same hotel as Barça,” he said.
“I had a good relationship with some of the players from the national teams: Pique, Marc Valiente, Cesc…I saw Pique in the hotel. At that time, we always used to beat them. But Pique told me: ‘This year we will beat you.
“I said no f***ing way. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘because we have a new player who is brilliant.’ I asked him who and he pointed [at Messi] by the swimming pool. I saw a small kid, really small. I was sat on the edge of the pool with his feet in the water, lost in his own world, thinking about other things.
“Pique’s a prankster, always has been, and I thought he was winding me up. In fact, I thought: He’s winding me up and messing with his own teammate. That was the first time I saw Messi.”
Granero was soon left in disbelief, however, after witnessing the destructive power which Messi could conjure, a prowess on the field which would make him one of the game’s very best of all time:
“He [Messi] crushed us on his own. They beat us 3-0. From centre or from any dead ball, he would receive the ball short and keep the ball. He was spectacular. Very little, but strong like a rock.
“It was mad to see how the ball stuck to his foot. It was brutal, literally impossible to get the ball of him. It had an impact, we were terrified of what he could become! Fifteen years later, I see him on the pitch and I think: fuck, this guy is still here!”
The Catalan derby between Espanyol and Barca takes place on Saturday, and Granero, much like every other ‘Periquitos’ player, will be ready to thwart Messi and co.