• Transfers

The real reason Lionel Messi never played for River Plate

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We look back into the time when Argentine club River Plate blew the chance to sign a young Leo Messi for their squad and had the chance to change history.

We’ve all heard the story of the time when Lionel Messi and his parents were struggling in Argentina to get him a club to play football, one of the squads that allegedly rejected the possibility to sign the player when he was looking for a club before leaving to Barcelona. In several documents about this time when Messi kept trying to get in the radar of the biggest clubs from Argentina, the reasoning behind the negative response from them is because they didn’t want to pay for the growth hormone treatment that Lionel needed as a kid. But looking back to another document from a few years back, turns out the reason was even more staggering because the board members simply thought there were other great players already in the River youth academy. There is a long interview that Goal Americas made to former River Plate youth coach Eduardo Abrahamian, who had the privilege of watching Leo Messi during a trial for the Millonarios club and he definitely wanted Leo to play for River but he kept getting a negative response from the board.

“He blew me away in that first practice. He was very small but we didn’t worry about size. We looked at technical abilities – and he had plenty of those. It was impressive: in the practice he scored about 12 goals and, even though Gimenez scored a few more, they all came from Messi’s moves. He had amazing abilities. He was here for three of four days. He blew us away. Together with Higuain, at that age group, they would have been champions every year. I called the club’s director general and I told him to come down and have a look because this was something surprising. For the technical quality he had, his speed, the way he beat players – let’s just say he was different. I spoke to the coordinator and to the directors. They had to try to speak to his father to get him to come to River. I wanted him at the club but they needed to find accommodation for his father so that he could bring his family with him. I wanted him here. You don’t see a player like Leo every day. He made a difference; he was outstanding. He played with joy, with freshness, but there were things to sort out,” said Eduardo referring to the agreement that was never reached for Messi’s transfer.

To those who don’t know Messi’s personal story with River Plate, the Barcelona star has already spoken about his preference for the Millonarios over Boca Juniors and he confirmed that River would be the club he would’ve loved to play for apart from his beloved Newells Old Boys. Every time Lionel Messi has visited River’s Estadio Monumental from Buenos Aires, the fans always cheer him and give him standing ovations because they have a special connection with the player. Now that we stumbled upon this interview from a few years back, it’s hard not to imagine what could’ve been. We would’ve had a very similar story to the one that Diego Maradona had with Boca Juniors as a young player and River Plate would’ve become an even more successful club than they are right now because Messi would’ve been their most prominent homegrown product. But Abrahamian describes the board’s failure to sign young Messi as one of the biggest regrets of his career, now every time he scores a goal he thinks about everything that River Plate missed because of one wrong decision taken many years ago.

“I was convinced he would make it to play in Primera and I was working at the club because they gave me the post for that reason – to have my say on that. You can’t lose out on a player like Messi. “I told them that he was a player with great qualities. They told me we already had some of those and that he wanted to go home… so go and convince him to come back! The investment was nothing! Over time, it wouldn’t have been anything. If you look at what he would have been worth to the club, it was nothing. The club didn’t have economic problems, either. On the contrary. He was a player who was nailed on to play in Primera for River, then in the national team and there would likely have been a future sale to a team in Europe as well… When Boca invested in Maradona, he was a player who had already played in Primera for Argentinos Juniors but they made a decision and it bore fruit. River should have done the same with Messi.  But it didn’t happen and River, as an institution, lost so much. You can’t miss out on a player with those technical abilities. He was a genius,” Eduardo said to Goal Americas.

What do you think about what could’ve been if Leo Messi had played in River Plate instead of Barcelona? Please share your opinion in the comment section down below.