Jose Pekerman has explained how he went about securing Lionel Messi for the Argentina national team, despite the Barcelona star having the option to play for Spain.
Pekerman, as well as coaching Colombia from 2014 to 2018, was in charge of Argentina between 2004 and 2006.
“We practically stole him from Spain,” Pekerman told TNT Sports. “We had seen videos and had read some reports of a little boy from Rosario.
“I went to Spain to work for Leganes, and I saw him play for Barcelona’s youth teams. There was a FIFA regulation that has since changed, which said that a player who has played for a country’s youth team cannot change country.
“We made a plan for him to play, because Spain were also coming for him. He was going to play for Spain.
“His parents let him decide. His words were ‘I’m Argentine and I want to play for Argentina’. It was his decision, made with his heart. Every decision he made was for his best and for him to be happy.”
Messi played for one of Argentina’s youth teams in a game against Paraguay and stole the show after his half-time introduction.
“A friendly match was held with a form that the players signed to make it clear to FIFA that they had played for us,” Pekerman said. “The famous match was played on Argentinos Juniors’ pitch.
“Messi came on at half time with the score at 1-0 and it finished 8-0.
“He returned to Barcelona and started pre-season with Frank Rijkaard. The club called me and I was scared. But they asked, ‘What did you do to him? The boy is something else’.
“We had a plan for him, a long-term plan, but Rijkaard has seen him and he can’t believe it. It’s driving us crazy.”
Messi’s future is undecided, and he could be nearing the end of his time at Barcelona, but his former mentor doesn’t have any advice to give him.
“It’s hard to advise him, because nobody knows his situation better than he and his inner circle,” Pekerman said.
“If we analyse his career and his choices, I think the best advice is for him to do what he has always wanted to do.”