Truth behind Rangers’ failed bid to sign Messi as replacement for Barry Ferguson

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Alex McLeish once tried to sign Lionel Messi as a replacement for Barry Ferguson during his time at Rangers.

It sounds like something out of Football Manager – and that's sort of because it is – as McLeish's son gave him the recommendation after playing the popular computer game.

The remarkable approach took place at around the time of the 2004-05 season as a fresh-faced Messi was starting to make inroads into Barcelona's first-team.

He made his debut as a 17-year-old against Espanyol, becoming the club's youngest ever player, and would go on to make a further eight appearances that season.

Such a rare talent was drawing attention from all corners of the globe, not least central Scotland, where McLeish's son provided his father with an ominous prediction – and a potential solution to his midfield problem.

"My son Jon was into Championship Manager," McLeish explained on Graham Hunter's The Big Interview podcast in 2017.

"He was constantly giving me names in South America.

"They come out of the sky and say ‘Lionel Messi is going to be the best player in the world’.

"He was 13 or 14 at the time. You dismiss it but Rangers were downsizing and we were looking for some quality in midfield.

“Barry Ferguson had gone down to Blackburn so we lost a guy who would have taken the ball in any stadium anywhere in the world.

"We needed players of that ilk again.

"Jan Wouters phoned Henk ten Cate, who was the assistant of Frank Rijkaard, the ex-Dutch international.

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"Jan phoned him and said: ‘Messi?’ We were told no chance."

In an extract from Graham Hunter's book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World, McLeish revealed how close Rangers really came to landing Messi – and Andres Iniesta.

"Ten Cate and Jan Wouters had chats about us taking Messi on loan, but the guidance from Henk was that he was probably too young and possibly too slight to get benefit from Scottish football," he said.

"Eventually we made a formal enquiry; I think it would have been towards the end of the 2004-05 season.

"But Messi played brilliantly in the Youth World Cup and Barcelona were sure that they wouldn't loan him.

"Then Iniesta scored in a big pre-season game which meant that the club couldn't really loan him out without losing face.

"It was a pity nothing worked out because I’d been really excited at the idea of one of them coming for a season."

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Messi was used more frequently by Barcelona the following season, scoring eight goals in 25 appearances and earning a spot in Argentina's squad for the 2006 World Cup.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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