Messi, Cadiz and the love affair that never was

Lionel Messi Barcelona 2005
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The Barcelona star will come up against Cadiz on Sunday, but 15 years ago he could have ended up spending a season on loan at the club

"Cadiz is a very beautiful city and I would like to play here," Lionel Messi mentioned to Luis Soler as he was warming up on the sidelines during the 2005 Ramon de Carranza Trophy final.

Then just 18 years old, Messi was part of the team that beat Cadiz 3-1 to claim the pre-season trophy through goals from Ronaldinho, who scored twice, and Samuel Eto'o.

Cadiz were preparing for their return to La Liga after 13 years' absence and were on the prowl for some top talent to help boost their campaign. By the time Messi mentioned his attraction to Cadiz to the club's assistant coach Soler, the board were already making moves to bring him to the Estadio Ramon de Carranza on loan. 

Messi made his debut for Barca the previous season and had appeared in nine competitive matches, while his Argentina debut was just around the corner, but his place in Frank Rijkaard's side for the 2005-06 campaign was not yet guaranteed.

The club had already filled its quota of non-EU citizens with Ronaldinho, Eto'o and Rafa Marquez already in the squad. Indeed, Messi ended up being left out for the first five La Liga matches, though he did play a role in early Champions League wins against Werder Bremen and Udinese.

Cadiz were wise to the problem facing the Rosario native before anyone else and were aiming high - they also had their sights set on Brazilian full-back Marcelo, then still at Fluminense. The club tried to take him on loan and even probed Messi about a temporary move.

"We considered bringing in several who were aiming high, not only Messi but also Marcelo," Alvaro Benito, Cadiz's sports director at the time, told Goal.

"We were the ones who moved, I had seen him in the lower age groups and also with the Argentine Under 20s in Colombia, so they didn't even know him in Argentina but we did know what he was capable of.

"I had a good relationship with [then-Barcelona director] Txiki Begiristain because we had talked about several Barca B players and we asked him to transfer Messi if they couldn't count on him."

Lionel Messi Barcelona 2020-21

Although cautious, Begiristain did not refuse right away. The Blaugrana had intended on keeping the rising star, but neither the club nor player ruled out a deal. Cadiz did not speak with the player's father, Jorge, but they did reach out to Horacio Fernandez, one of those responsible for his arrival at Barcelona five years prior.

However, the plot soon fell apart.

Messi made an appearance in that Carranza Trophy clash and was waiting to receive his Spanish passport, so Barca decided to wait and see how the situation developed. On September 26, his application was complete and Messi was no longer considered a non-EU member of the squad and any chance of him leaving evaporated.

"In the end it was not done because Barcelona did not want to [let him leave]," Benito said. "[Rijkaard] began to count on him for the first team."

From October onwards, Messi became a regular in the side and, when he came back to face Cadiz in December, the fans, now aware of their team's failed attempt to sign him, chanted that they wanted him to stay.

"If there was a chance, it was about what could happen in the short term with the player, because every year a new jewel appears in La Masia and in the end many times it ends up dropping out of the squad. If that could happen to Messi, we wanted to be prepared," said Benito.

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"Cadiz would have allowed him to experience things that he has never experienced at Barcelona, such as that great passion there is for the players since it is a fondness similar to that of Argentine teams."

Unfortunately for Cadiz, though, he quickly became a star at Camp Nou. Messi went on to make 17 appearances in the Spanish top flight that season, but an injury he picked up in March saw him ruled out for the remainder of the season. He missed out as the Catalan giants won the league and Champions League double.

Of course, he soon helped fire them to a plethora of domestic, continental and world titles as well as claiming the Ballon d'Or six times. Incredibly, 15 years later, he is still going strong.