'I had no doubt Messi would be the best in the world' - former Masia colleague Botia

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The five-time Ballon d'Or winner's success is no shock for an old academy friend, who was in awe of La Pulga even when the pair were teenagers

Lionel Messi's former colleague at La Masia, Alberto Botia, has revealed it came as no surprise to him to see the Argentine conquer the world of football. 

Botia came through the famous Barcelona youth academy two years after Messi, making his first-team bow in 2009. 

Barcelona 13/2 to win CL

The defender found starting opportunities at Camp Nou hard to come by, however, and eventually ended up in Greece with Olympiacos by way of spells at Sporting Gijon, Sevilla and Elche. 

Botia will now be tasked with keeping Messi quiet when the two teams lock horns in Tuesday's Champions League clash, but he has lost none of his admiration for La Pulga over the years. 

"I grew up watching Messi every week, when he was playing with the Under-19 and U-16 teams, I was younger and I attended almost all his games," the 28-year-old explained to Goal ahead of the tie.

"I never had a doubt he was about to become the best of the world."

Ernesto Valverde Barcelona

Tuesday's game will also mean a further reunion for Botia's Olympiacos team-mates. 

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde is fondly remembered in Athens after two separate spells with the Greek giants, during which he lifted the Super Liga on three occasions. 

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"Valverde left everyone happy in Olympiacos and that is very hard to do, everyone speaks about him," he added, while admitting he is under no illusions as to the challenge that awaits his team.

"The game in Greece could be so different than the Camp Nou one (a game Barcelona won 3-1). We are in front of our supporters and we must be very intense, we know that. 

"How to stop Messi is the question all defenders who face him ask themselves each week, he is a top one but I think it would be a mistake focusing only on him, we are worried about all Barcelona players."

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