Lionel Messi has established himself as possibly the best player in history since moving to Barcelona as a youth in 2001, but Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino revealed the Argentinian almost signed with Espanyol.
Messi's career could have taken a different path had he joined the Blaugrana's bitter Catalonian rivals. Former Espanyol player and manager Pochettino divulged how close the deal was, per Declan Warrington of the Press Association (h/t the Daily Mail).
When asked how near Tottenham's 2015 signing Dele Alli was to a Liverpool move instead, Pochettino told journalists it's common for players to waiver between teams, and Messi almost joined Los Periquitos as a teenager:
Do you know how many players in football are close to signing for many clubs? Dele Alli, it's impossible to speak about that because maybe different clubs were close to signing Dele Alli. Dele Alli is now here.
We were close at Espanyol to signing Lionel Messi but this was true. A centimetre (away), unbelievable but this was true, maybe Dele wasn't true but this was. Messi was 17 years old (in the 2004/05 season), playing under-18s and was very close to signing for Espanyol. It was close but it never happened.
In football it's always 'if, if, if' but it's about reality, it's not about maybe what could have happened.
Pochettino is wise not to labour over how Espanyol might have recruited a player who has gone on to win a record five Ballon d'Or awards and lead Barcelona to a countless tally of trophies in the years since.
It was in the 2004-05 season—the period in which Pochettino mentioned the Espanyol links—when Barcelona first handed Messi senior opportunities at the Camp Nou, and the rest is history.
The summer of 2004 also happened to be when ex-Argentina defender Pochettino moved back to Estadi Cornella-El Prat for his second spell with Espanyol before going on to manage the Catalan club from 2009 to 2012.
Thankfully for the Spurs boss, he did get his hands on another emerging talent in the form of Alli. The former MK Dons starlet scored a stunning, game-changing goal in Tottenham's 3-1 win over Crystal Palace on Saturday, and he blew away Sky Sports' Gillette Soccer Saturday pundit team:
Sky Football ⚽️ @SkyFootball
WATCH: "You should get two goals for that!" The boys react to @Dele_Alli's wonder goal! https://t.co/yrzjItaHAt https://t.co/gm5sO32vqL2016-1-23 16:58:32
In another life, former Arsenal academy player Harry Kane might also have remained at Spurs' north London rivals, but Pochettino's side are benefiting from a thriving crew of young talent.
It's impossible to ascertain how Messi's career—or Espanyol's last decade of history—might have transpired had the forward joined Barca's local enemies as a youth. Without the Blaugrana's teachings, he may not have developed into the same player, or his allure could have made Los Periquitos another powerhouse.
But it does not do to dwell on dreams. While Pochettino came within "a centimetre" of not only playing alongside Barcelona's leading man but also potentially going on to manage him, missed chances are no more than that.
Instead, Pochettino will look to ensure his teams never again miss out on the next big thing, and an emerging contingent of young stars at White Hart Lane suggest he's already making amends.