Villa boss McLeish: I tried to sign Barcelona star Messi for Rangers

Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish admits he tried to sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi for Rangers. During season 2003-04 he came closest to the greatest signing of them all — Messi.

Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish admits he tried to sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi for Rangers.

During season 2003-04 he came closest to the greatest signing of them all — Messi.

McLeish recalled to the Scottish Sun: "Jan Wouters was my assistant at Ibrox at the time and I asked him whether or not he knew Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard and if he'd be willing to get in touch to check if there were some quality youngsters who might benefit us because of their talents, but who could gain experience in Scotland before returning to Barca.

"Jan told me that he was slightly friendlier with Rijkaard's assistant Henk ten Cate, and our scouts had already been aware of Leo Messi's growing reputation at youth level.

"We didn't have much budget at the time and the previous season we'd taken some bigger-name players on free contracts or low transfer fees but higher wages.

"This time, we thought that the fans might be a bit more understanding if we brought in younger or less experienced players, but who were of good quality.

"Ten Cate and Jan 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.

"Our view was that Barca were probably hedging their bets at the time. Even then, they knew how good he was and they must have thought that letting him go to British football might be a risk because of the tough tackling.

"But they were also obviously unsure about how quickly he might actually make the Barca first team.

"We caught them just in the middle of that process of working out what they wanted to do with Messi.

"But during the discussions Henk said to Jan that we should do ourselves a favour and take Iniesta on loan instead.

"I think his exact words were, 'This boy is going to be a world beater' — which he proved for Spain against Holland in South Africa in the 2010 World Cup Final.

"Henk told us that Iniesta 'sees the picture in front of him' earlier than anyone and that he's got a great pass and an ability to beat people.

"Eventually we made a formal enquiry. I think it would have been towards the end of season 2004-5.

"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 excited at the idea of one or other of them coming for a season."

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