Failing to link up with Barcelona would have cost Lionel Messi his standing as “the best in the world”, according to former Camp Nou player and manager Charly Rexach.
The mercurial Argentine is now widely regarded as one of the finest performers of this or any other generation.
His place in football folklore is already secure, with a 500-goal haul at Barca marking him out as an elite talent.
Although Messi's talent is undoubtable, Rexach believes his stature in the game has only been made possible by a perfect sporting marriage in Catalunya which saw him brought to Europe at the age of 13 and offered the ideal stage on which to showcase his talent.
Rexach, who was sporting director at the time and played a leading role in negotiations, told SuperDeportivo: "I believe that Messi, if he hadn't come to Barcelona, wouldn't have been Messi - be careful with what I say.
"The big advantage is that a great player like him was put together with a great team like Barcelona and they formed a fearsome duo together, but if he had gone to another club he would have been a great player - but without his reputation resonating around the world as it has.
"If Messi would not have been at Barcelona, it would have cost him being the best in the world.
"As an example, it occurs with Argentina, where the national team doesn't rotate around Messi.
"Messi is Barcelona. The two together have become greater every day.
"The importance that Messi has at the club, and the importance that Barcelona have in world football is the link between them."
Messi has 502 goals in just 579 appearances for Barca, with his efforts down the years having helped to secure countless major honours, including eight Liga titles, four Champions League crowns and five Ballon d’Or prizes.