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'He would bite your ankles' - How Messi became a 'monster' at Barcelona

14:59 BST 09/04/2021
Lionel Messi Barcelona Real Madrid 2010
In an exclusive interview, former Blaugrana attacker Andrea Orlandi reveals while the Argentine was shy off the field, he was ferocious on it

Lionel Messi was so competitive as a teenager that he would "bite your ankles if he lost the ball", according to former Barcelona attacker Andrea Orlandi.

The Blaugrana captain is renowned as a reserved character off the field but Orlandi, who spent two years on loan with the Catalan club's B team between 2005 and 2007, says Messi was a very different beast on it.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, the LaLigaTV analyst revealed that the Argentine attacker would turn into "a monster" in games.

What's been said?

"It was not pleasant training with him; you couldn't get the ball off him or get near him," Orlandi told Goal. "He was a very shy person and Ronaldinho looked after him. I remember he would prepare a coffee for Ronny and not say a word but, on the pitch, he would transform into a monster.

"I have never seen someone as competitive as he was at 17 or 18 at the time. He would bite your ankles if he lost the ball; he couldn't cope with it. You could see he was going to be something big but I never expected him to become the best player in football history.

"At the time, the reference point was Ronaldinho and he was the best thing I have ever seen in terms of pure quality. Messi was different to him. It wasn't showboating but he would show you the ball and it wasn't there anymore.

"It was the small movements; he is so clever at getting out of pressure. You couldn't show him onto his weaker foot because he was good on both sides. You couldn't kick him because you can't get near him.

"It was frustrating to be nowhere near that level as a young player but I was lucky enough to train and play with him. What really impressed me was how he got the ball in tight areas, running at six players, but knew he would get out of that situation. Most players didn't even think of doing it.

"My strongest memory was a training session where he came back from injury. [Coach Frank] Rijkaard organised a training game which mixed B players with first-team players. I was with Samuel Eto'o in my team and against Messi.

"He got the ball in midfield and ran past one, two, three, four and five. He went around the goalkeeper and scored. It looked so easy and he just got back from injury. Maybe we were lucky he was back from injury because if he was fully fit, he could do even more.

"I think he and Cristiano Ronaldo share the mentality of wanting to be the best every day. I think it was all about doing what he wanted to do and knowing how to do it. That's why he is the biggest player ever. He had the mentality; he would bite your ankles or kick you.

"Don't forget, he was training with Deco, Xavi and Eto'o and he wasn't shy on the pitch even if he was a shy person off it. He was so confident on the pitch that it was scary. These big players are all very determined and they are more competitive than anyone else and want to keep going.

"Ronaldinho had Messi and Ronaldo's quality but he didn't look after himself as these two have done, so he wasn't as consistent as them. Even now, they still are working in their 30s while touched by God for talent. That's why they are at the top."

How important is Saturday's Clasico?

Not only do Barca and Real remain fierce rivals, their latest encounter is of massive significance in the Liga title race.

Atletico Madrid are top of the table but have blown a big lead since the turn of the year and are now only one point ahead of Barcelona with nine games to play. Madrid are just two points further back in third place, meaning the Clasico could hardly be more important.

Orlandi believes the victors could well go on to win the title.

"You can never write off Madrid and Barcelona from being champions but when Atletico Madrid had a 10-point gap with a game in hand, I thought it was nearly over. I couldn't see them dropping too many points. I knew the gap wouldn't end as big as it was," he added.

"This Clasico could now be decisive. Whoever loses could suffer a blow and whoever wins could be title favourites. I thought with Barca that there is no way they could win the league, but they found a system with three centre-backs and suddenly everything is working. I think they play the best football in Spain, performance-wise.

"This could be Messi's last Clasico too. Everyone expects him to sign a new deal and hopefully, he will. Messi wanted to leave at the beginning of the season but now he sees youngsters coming through who are good enough.

"There's a future in this team and with (Joan) Laporta coming in as a president, Messi probably thinks there is a good future at the club too. People want him to be the leader for the youngsters, and now he is doing it, and he looks happy. He should be doing this from now until the end of his career; he is still flying and can't be stopped."

Watch El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona this Saturday 10 April at 8pm on LaLigaTV, available from just £6.99 a month via Premier Sports and Amazon Prime Video Channels.

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