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Former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard, who gave Lionel Messi his professional debut, says he and his top players recognised the Argentine's talent early on

Former Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard says he and his top players recognised Lionel Messi's "unique talent" from day one.

The Dutchman handed the Argentine his professional debut in 2004 and he went on to lead the Catalans to a string of trophies, breaking a number of records in the process.

And Rijkaard has recalled when he first came across the now-26-year-old and the reaction of senior players such as Deco and Ronaldinho.

"From the moment Messi was introduced, we all knew he was a unique talent," he told Sport.

"I remember Deco and Ronaldinho immediately realised how special he was, and they took him under their wing.

"He had same mentality he has now all those years ago. All he wanted to do was get on the pitch and play football. He was born to be a footballer.

"He is a very modest man who is always thinking about his companions and the good of the team.

"He was always brilliant, but when Pep Guardiola started to use him as a "false" No.9, he got even better. It's impossible to be more of a footballer than Messi."

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