Italian manager Fabio Capello feels that FC Barcelona ace Lionel Messi belongs to a select class of footballers and is at par with some of the greatest players ever to have graced the game.

The former Juventus manager feels that Lionel Messi is at par with legends of the game like Alfredo Di Stefano, Pele and Diego Maradona. Capello feels that Messi has defined this era which has also seen great footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic among others.

Messi’s audacity caught the eye of Capello

Capello was first buoyed by an 18-year-old Messi when his Juventus side faced a star studded FC Barcelona side in 2005 and the Italian wanted to bring the Argentine to Turin, hoping to take advantage of some on-going bureaucratic problems at the Catalan club.

Speaking in an interview with El Mundo Derpotivo, as quoted by Goal, he said:

“Twenty-five minutes into the game, I approached [then-Barca boss] Frank Rijkaard about taking Messi to Juve.

“I knew about some bureaucratic problems [at Barca] and I thought that he might not start the season in Barcelona.

“So, then it occurred to me to take him to Turin. But Frank told me that in three or four months everything would be all settled, and that Leo could play with Barca.

The 69-year-old recalls an 18-year-old Messi holding his own against defender Federico Balzaretti at Camp Nou with the Italian convinced that Messi was destined for greatness.

“But I remember when I saw his name in the line-up and then, he blew my mind.

“I could not believe that a player of his age could play like that, before 90,000 spectators, undeterred by [being marked] by someone like [Federico] Balzaretti.

“His personality, quality, dribbling, fantasy – he took the ball and went straight for goal with an unusual audacity.

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First, it was Di Stefano, Pele, then later Maradona, and now Messi. – Fabio Capello

“The likes of [Franco] Baresi or [Paolo] Maldini, they were players who already knew they would reach the ‘top’ because of the great talent they had.

“From there, much depends on the head of the player. But I noticed something different from what I had seen so far. With what he showed in that game against Juve, I no doubt that Messi would reach the top.

“You can talk about the best player in history, because football has had several different times and each player has excelled above the rest.

“First, it was Di Stefano, Pele, then later Maradona, and now Messi.”

The four time Ballon D’Or winner has won four Champions League with FC Barcelona along with seven La Liga titles. The 28-year-old is also the record scorer in La Liga and is the joint top-scorer in Champions League history.

However, the diminutive Argentine has received some flak for his performance in national colors and the failure to inspire La Albiceleste to end their current barren run of 22-years without a major international honour. The forward is regarded by many as the greatest of all-time and was instrumental in Argentina making it to the finals of the World Cup and Copa America in successive years.