Barca's new Maradona thwarted by red tape

Argentina's hopes may rest with Leo Messi but, Patrick McCurdy writes, he must warm the bench at the Nou Camp

This shy 18-year-old forward is the player whom Diego Maradona himself hails as his true successor and the one every Argentinian wants to see spearhead their bid to win the next World Cup. The only problem for Barcelona, and as a consequence for Argentina, is that a bureaucratic oversight could end up depriving them of the services of their prodigy for much of this season's league matches. Although he came to Barcelona five years ago, the club have not done the paperwork that would have allowed him dual citizenship and to become eligible to play for the first team.

Under Spanish Football Federation rules each Primera Liga club is allowed a maximum of three non-European Union players in their squad and Barça have already filled their quota with Ronaldinho, the leading striker Samuel Eto'o and the Mexican international defender Rafael Marquez.

They had been hoping that Messi would not count as a "foreigner" because he had come up through the club's youth ranks and could therefore be seen as an "assimilated" player, but the lack of a definitive ruling over his status has forced them to leave their most prized possession on the sidelines in the league.

Fortunately for Barcelona the same rules do not apply in Europe and Messi is able to play in the Champions' League. In fact, he came on in the second half of their game away to Werder Bremen on Wednesday to win the penalty that sealed a 2-0 victory for the Catalans.

"I'm managing to cope with the situation quite well, but I just hope it is all sorted out soon," the youngster said after the match.

So how good is Messi? Born in the city of Santa Fe, Leo started out in the youth teams at Newell's Old Boys, but his football career came under threat almost before it had started because a hormone imbalance threatened to inhibit his growth. No Argentinian club was prepared to finance the expensive treatment, so his father Jorge decided to take him to Spain to try his luck with Barcelona. It took just a few touches of the ball for Messi to convince the then Barça coach, Carlos Rexach.

"I signed him up in half a minute and we signed a symbolic first contract on the back of a napkin," he said. "I knew immediately that he had everything needed to be a footballing superstar." His 31 goals in 38 games for the Barça junior teams brought Messi to the notice of the coach, Frank Rijkaard, who made him the third youngest player ever to play for the senior side when he gave him his debut in a friendly against Porto in November 2003 at the age of 16.

Last term he made his European debut in the Champions' League against Shakhtar Donetsk and played his first league match against city rivals Espanyol in October. He became the youngest player ever to score for the first team with a last-minute lob in the 2-0 win against Albacete.

In June, Messi steered Argentina to a record fifth triumph in the World Youth Championship in the Netherlands. He converted two penalties to lead his side to a 2-1 victory over Nigeria in the final and, like Maradona before him, he ended the tournament by pocketing both the top scorer and best player awards.

"He's a genius," Maradona said after the victory. "He's a leader who is not weighed down by responsibility and without him this Argentinian team would have no football."

Messi received a call-up for the full national squad for a friendly away to Hungary in August, the same opponents against whom Maradona made his international debut at 16. What should have been a dream turned to a nightmare, though, when Messi was sent off less than a minute after stepping on to the pitch as a substitute as the referee Markus Merk adjudged he had elbowed a defender who had pulled his shirt as he surged through the Hungarian defence.

When the team returned to the dressing-room after the 2-1 victory they found the youngster crying in a corner. The Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo said that even though Messi's debut had been cut short his team-mates knew they were in the presence of a special player. "When Messi came on we were all aware that something had changed and a magical player had come on to the pitch," he said.

Barça fans pray that the club can sort out the paperwork so that one of the most exciting prospects in world football does not end up spending most of the season sitting in the stands.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick