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Siwahla: Messi was impressed with me at Barcelona's La Masia

22:54 GMT+3 20/01/2022
Mkhanyiseli Siwahla
The retired footballer was then tipped as the next big thing to happen to South African football but could not live up to expectations

Former South Africa youth international Mkhanyiseli Siwahla has no regrets about his failed move to La Liga giants Barcelona as he recalls a trial stint he had at La Masia.

During the 2002/03 season, Siwahla was sent to audition at La Masia, Barcelona’s famed youth academy and spent at least two weeks there.

It was a lifetime opportunity that saw him training with the likes of Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique.

“I trained with Barcelona juniors and Lionel Messi was there,” Siwahla, told Sowetan Live.

“Messi was still a junior player there around 2002 and 2003. When I arrived there I didn’t know about him but they tell you when you get there because he was the star player and almost everything revolved around him.

“I see him now and say to myself that I shared a dressing room with this guy, but that is inside me and I know some people won’t believe it. The truth is that I was there for about two to three weeks and I played with him. We even went to Germany to play in a youth tournament and after that I came back to South Africa because nothing materialised.

“I was supposed to be a Barcelona player because everything was there, even at Ajax Cape Town they know that but I don’t know what happened. I don’t take it personally because it was not meant to be. I don’t want to say a human being blocked the move, I say God had other plans for me.”

Shortly after, Siwahla then made his Premier Soccer League debut aged 15 years, five months and 22 days while turning out for Cape Town Spurs, then known as Ajax Cape Town.

He was touted as the brightest prospect in South African football but failed to live up to his billing.

While Messi and others went on to become global football stars, Siwahla failed to take off from Cape Town Spurs.

He, however, managed to play in Poland and Slovakia during the later stages of his career.

That was after stints at Bloemfontein Celtic, Chippa United and Black Aces, as well as a stint in Botswana where he turned out for Mochudi Centre Chiefs.

But it was his trip to La Masia which he fondly speaks off.

“During the matches, we played and at training, Messi was very impressed with what I was doing. Most of the time he didn’t even call for the ball from me because he knew he would get it,” said Siwahla.

“At times he would shout at other guys when he didn’t get the ball but when I had it he knew I would supply him and he didn’t have any problems with me. I could do whatever he was doing, like taking on players and pass to the strikers or to him.

“I saw him make his debut and going on to become a world star alongside the likes of Ronaldinho, Xavi, Iniesta, Samuel Eto’o - I am happy for him and I have fond memories of the times I played with him.”

Siwahla last played professional football in 2019 aged 31.