They were there: witnesses to Leo Messi's league debut 11 years ago

Messi during his league debut / MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB
This Friday sees the 11th anniversary of the Argentine’s first league appearance, his team mate Juliano Belletti and his opponent David García remember that day

On the 16 October 2004, Leo Messi made his first appearance in a league game for Barça. The team then coached by Frank Rijkaard won 1-0 in the derby against Espanyol at the Olympic Stadium in Montjuïc. The Dutch coach gave the 17 year old Argentine his first taste of league action, bringing him on to replace Deco with just 8 minutes of the contest remaining. His team mate Juliano Belletti and the man who marked him that day David García look back at Messi’s league debut.

Belletti: He is the Pelé of my generation

“That day he did not have much time but he showed glimpses of what we were seeing in training. He was a different player to the rest of the youngsters. When we came up against the B team or the U19s they were all timid except him. He was difficult to mark because, despite being young, he had the personality and the quality for the first team,” says Belletti. The hero of Barça’s 2006 Champions League win in Paris highlights Messi’s refusal to rest on his laurels. For Belletti, “every year he wanted to be better, he always wanted more.” For everything he has achieved since that day 11 years ago, for the Brazilian: “He is the Pelé of my generation.”

David García: It was better to mark him than Ronaldinho or Eto’o

David García played all 90 minutes that day as Espanyol’s left back, making him the first man to mark Messi in Spanish league football history. He recalls: “I remember him coming on and I was playing on the flank where Rijkaard was giving him instructions before he came on.” He continues: “We study our opponents and we had seen him for Barça B. Our first impression was that he was a different kind of player, decisive and capable of scoring goals.”
Now retired and studying for coaching qualifications, David García looks back at the relief the appearance of Messi signalled for him. “I thought it was better to be marking him rather than Ronaldinho or Eto’o, more famous players with more experience.” With hindsight such a reactions seems unusual yet at the time nobody could have predicted just what Leo Messi would become. Not even his first marker. “I never imagined that he would becomes of the greatest ever, if not the greatest,” he concludes.