Esteban Granero, the former Real Madrid and current Espanyol player, knows Lionel Messi since he was 15 years old. As Espanyol prepares to meet FC Barcelona in the Catalan derby, he recounted the first time he saw the future superstar.
Granero was in Real Madrid’s youth team back then, and he tells the story that in those days, he was used to beating Barça’s youth team.
The Barça youngsters in that time included Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, but they had recently gotten a key addition: Messi.
Granero says that he got on well with Pique, and they talked at the hotel before the match. Pique told him that this year, Barça would win, because they had a new amazing player, and pointed at Messi.
Granero recalls: “I saw a small kid, really small. He was sat on the edge of the pool with his feet in the water, lost in his own world, thinking about other things. Pique's a prankster, always has been, and I thought he was winding me up. In fact, I thought: He's winding me up and messing with his own teammate.”
But Pique wasn’t kidding.
Granero goes on: “[Messi] crushed us on his own. They beat us 3-0. From centre or from any dead ball, he would receive the ball short and keep the ball. He was spectacular. Very little, but strong like a rock. It was mad to see how the ball stuck to his foot. It was brutal, literally impossible to get the ball of him. It had an impact, we were terrified of what he could become! Fifteen years later, I see him on the pitch and I think: f**k, this guy is still here!"