- Argentina's president has intervened in the ongoing saga of Lionel Messi's departure from FC Barcelona, imploring the star to return to his homeland and finish his career with boyhood club, Newell's Old Boys.
- "You are in our hearts and we have never seen you play in our country," President Alberto Fernandez said during an interview on Argentinian news channel C5N.
- "Give us the pleasure of ending your career with Newell's Old Boys, your club."
- Messi came through Newell's Old Boys' academy as a small child, before leaving to join Barcelona's La Masia youth academy at the age of 13.
- It seems unlikely that Messi would return to Argentina with several years of his career left, and Newell's would almost certainly be unable to afford his wages.
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Lionel Messi's seemingly imminent transfer away from FC Barcelona is so big that it has garnered interest from the highest echelons of politics, with Argentina's president making a personal intervention over the weekend during a TV interview.
Alberto Fernandez, the president of Messi's home country, begged the star to return, asking him to consider playing out the final years of his career at Newell's Old Boys, the first professional club Messi ever signed for.
"You are in our hearts and we have never seen you play in our country," Fernandez said during an interview on Argentinian news channel C5N, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.
"Give us the pleasure of ending your career with Newell's Old Boys, your club," he implored Messi, who is adored in his homeland, and is probably the country's most famous export since fellow footballer Diego Maradona.
However, Maradona is still a greater player than Messi, Fernandez said. "I never saw a player like Maradona," he said in the interview, as translated by Insider.
"I want to say, I had deep admiration for Maradona and, honestly, that is greater than I have for Messi," he continued, saying that Messi has consistently been part of brilliant teams, while Maradona was often the only great player in his teams.
"It was a team of him, alone against the world. On the other hand, the team on which Messi played, it's a team of great stars, right?"
Messi left Argentina as a 13-year-old, turning his back on Newell's Old Boys, the biggest team in his home town of Rosario, and moving to Barcelona's famed La Masia academy.
At 33, it seems unlikely that Messi would currently move back to Argentina, particularly given that he is being courted by some of Europe's biggest sides, and that the financial rewards available in Argentina are tiny in comparison to what stars playing in England, France, and Spain can make.
Messi is currently expected to sign for either Manchester City or Paris Saint Germain, the two clubs who could realistically afford his signature this season.
In recent days Manchester City has emerged as the frontrunner, partly down to Messi's reported desire to link back up with Pep Guardiola, the manager with whom he enjoyed his most successful years at Barcelona.
Messi and Guardiola helped steer Barcelona to three La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues between 2008 and 2012, with Messi winning the Ballon d'Or four times in that period.
Fernandez, who is a fan of Buenos Aires side Argentinos Juniors, also praised Guardiola, saying: "Messi's Barcelona was a unique team in the history of soccer — with Pep Guardiola as coach, with a [truly] unique team in the history of world soccer."
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