Chasing Socrates and meeting Messi

This summer I thought about knocking playing football on the head, but was talked out of it.

IâÂÂm not much of a player and always relied on a good fitness level, but at 35 that becomes harder to maintain and youâÂÂre goosed.

I got back from training with Manchester la Fianna last Tuesday night and as my bones and muscles groaned, I switched on my computer to receive emails.

There were several positive ones.

IâÂÂve been looking for a cult footballer to do the foreword for the Rough Guide to Cult Football. Our number one target was Socrates and so the word went out.

Three weeks ago, an email arrived from someone who was with someone in Brazil who worked with Socrates. Would he like me to have a word?

After being told about the content of the book, the great Brazilian is up for an interview⦠on the condition that it is done face to face.

If I lived in Belo Horizonte that would be fine, but I guess that thatâÂÂs why planes were invented.

There was another email from Jorge Messi, LionelâÂÂs father and agent.

Bless him, he replied to my request in faltering English with the news that his son would be free on Sunday after training.

Great. As a journalist you spend a lot of time planning and waiting, so itâÂÂs satisfying when plans come together.

As I set about planning on persuading Leo that his future would be far brighter at Old Trafford than the Camp Nou, I looked at that nightâÂÂs results from the Unibond League.

When:âÂÂChorley 0 Prescot Cables 1 (Jonathan Mitten 6)â flashed up, it was the best news of the night.

And when I received news the following day about the football career of our soon-to-be-15-year-old little brother, I was delighted.

But sometimes you're too close to a story to write about it...

Saturday night meant a trip to Espanyol for the visit of Real Madrid.

A mix up over press passes meant that along with fellow British journalists Graham Hunter and Sid Lowe, I missed the start of the match, despite arriving early.

Just as Espanyol officials soon rectified their mistake, Madrid soon overcame EspanyolâÂÂs early pressure to beat them 3-0.

After the game, the media mixed zone was a farce.

Kids with cameras had been allowed in and the only Madrid player who stopped to talk as they made their way to their plush team bus was Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Cristiano Ronaldo was apologetic â as if MadridâÂÂs players had been told to let their football do the talking â and was playfully shadowed by his new mate Kaka.

I shared a taxi away from the ground with the sporting director of third division Terrassa, a satellite city of Barcelona and hometown of Xavi.

He (Terrassa's sporting director, not Xavi) wants his side to play Manchester La Fianna in a friendly this month and we agreed, despite fearing that weâÂÂll get annihilated.

His best paid players are on â¬50,000 a year. Ours pay â¬10 a week to play.

We gave a good game to a Norwegian second division side in 2008 and only lost out in the final minutes⦠after IâÂÂd put myself on for the last eight to be immediately exposed as being way out of my depth.

With the score at 1-1, a cross-field ball was lofted over my head and the man I was supposed to be marking volleyed it straight into the top corner.

On Sunday morning, for the first time I visited BarçaâÂÂs superb new training ground on the southern edge of the city near the airport.

Managed to get to quotes from the increasingly influential Yaya Toure before meeting Messi.

IâÂÂve been fortunate to interview him several times before and the first thing he said, with a smile, was âÂÂWere you in Rome?âÂÂ

I should have replied, âÂÂWere you in Rosario or Asuncion last week?âÂÂ

But we canâÂÂt all be quick-thinking bright sparks like Socrates, can we?

---------------------------------------------- More to read...

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