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.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
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

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home