ISL 2022-23: 'Lionel Messi was someone we had never experienced' - FC Goa defender Marc Valiente
ISL 2022-23: Marc Valiente is currently having a decent stint in the tournament with FC Goa. Having played alongside Lionel Messi during his youth days in Barcelona, he recalled playing with him.
Image credit: Getty & ISL
FC Goa's 35-year-old defender Marc Valiente is finding his feet comfortably in India, declaring that the playing style and environment in the country are similar to what he trained for during his time at Barcelona's academy as a teen. The Spanish defender was in Barcelona's youth structure, leading a breakthrough talent and now a modern-day great - Lionel Messi. The defender lectures about the early days when Messi was foremost brought to the academy. As the team was prepared to play the fast-paced touch football that has become interchangeable with Barcelona, Valiente expressed that Messi's differentia had stood out immediately at the time.
"When he came to our team, I think he was 13-14. It was not easy for him because he came from Argentina. He couldn't play in the first season. It was not easy for him to get used to our play, but after that, he was not shy anymore, and you could see from the first minute that he was so different," said Valiente.
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Over the years, many experts have spoken about a youngster's first touch being a helpful indicator of their marker. For nearly two decades, Messi has become a sign of that assertion. But, before he became one of the sport's all-time greats, obliged by his pristine touch, Valiente and the others in the academy had been bystanders.
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"I remember from that time we played two touches – it was our game style. We played one side to another as fast as we could, using one or two touches. He [Messi] touched the ball maybe six or eight times [in the same time] that we did two touches. It was something different that we had never experienced. You could see that he was someone different. We never knew that he would become the best player, but Leo, as a 14-year-old, was like that," added Valiente.
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Having been part of what is regarded as one of the most excellent batches of footballers to come through from the Barcelona academy, Valiente expressed that one of the critical aspects in generating young players is to offer them teaching and game time aplenty. Former India player Izumi Arata, who coaches Under-19 players at the Reliance Foundation Young Champs academy, which aims at developing young talent, echoed this sentiment.
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"Talent is everywhere. The pool is huge. You need to make extra efforts to reach out to all parts of this country, and I think Reliance Foundation is doing a fantastic job by keeping scouts in many cities and states to find the best talents from all over the country. We need more academies with this kind of vision," Arata communicated.
This season, the ISL has noticed the new spaced-out timetable being exploited to its full extent by the coaches, as more and more young players have been afforded playtime. Twenty-two players under the age of 25 made their debuts this ISL season, and 20 of those have been Indians, which aligns with the ISL's purpose of supplying an outlet for breakthrough Indian dexterities.