Imagine Lionel Messi being the focal point of the Spanish national team.
Just imagine that. Well, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) tried to make it happen.
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The manager of the 2010 World Cup champions — who, for the record, have also won back-to-back European Championship titles — Vicente Del Bosque has revealed that they asked Messi to switch to Spain from Argentina after he moved to Barcelona to play at their academy at the age of 13. The fact that Messi is a dual national of Argentina and Spain meant he could play for Spain but instead he made his debut for Argentina at the age of 18 and that was that for the Rosario-born superstar.
In an interview with the Independent ahead of Spain’s high-profile friendly against England in Alicante on Friday, Del Bosque revealed that the Spanish authorities tried to convince Messi to switch his allegiance.
“There was an attempt to do that at the time but he decided to stick with the country of his birth, he remained steadfast,” Del Bosque said.
“This is a phenomenon that we cannot turn our back on, we can’t pretend it doesn’t exist,” Del Bosque added. “It happens too often for that, it’s too significant. You see the players coming from outside of Spain and we don’t know where the next Messi or the next [Cristiano] Ronaldo is going to come from. It could be one of those who arrives here from another country looking to make a better life.”
Messi, 28, led Argentina to the 2014 World Cup final where they lost to Germany in extra time and is the focal point of La Albiceleste. He is said to be extremely patriotic despite living in Spain longer than he lived in Argentina but the four-time World Player of the Year is yet to win any silverware for his country of birth.
Just think about what I mentioned at the top of this piece. Imagine if for the last 10 years Messi had played up front for Spain alongside Fernando Torres, David Villa and others in their prime plus had long-time teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta feeding him the ball. How much more convincing would they have been in winning three of the last four major titles they competed for? How many goals would Messi have? Talk about the icing on the cake… Then again, I’d argue along with many others that you cannot simply choose which nation you want to play for based on who you think will be more successful.
In today’s world where families move across the globe to seek better opportunities, children are often born in a different country than where they grow up. Take the U.S. national team for example. Youngsters like Gedion Zelalem, Julian Green and Rubio Rubin all have very different backgrounds and could play for multiple national teams.
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When looking at higher profile cases, Diego Costa‘s decision to switch his allegiance from Brazil to Spain was because he felt more Spanish after living there for many years so he took advantage of residency rules. When I spoke with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger about Zelalem’s decision to turn down Germany, the country of his birth, to play for the USA, he said it is because he “feels more American” after spending his formative years living in the States.
This is a complex issue and with youngsters from all over the globe moving to foreign countries to play for academies and then after five years being able to count as homegrown players, this notion of deciding which national team you want to play for will not disappear. It will only be more widespread and become more complex