Messi and Villa already on good terms - unlike Levante and Valencia

The offer to be an embedded journalist with adidas for the day at the launch of their new F50 boot sounded interesting.

IâÂÂd be shadowing two footballers - Lionel Messi and David Villa - around the Formula One track near Barcelona. They wouldnâÂÂt be racing, but two F1 cars decked out in adidas colours would deliver the new boots that both will wear in South Africa â the theme being âÂÂfastâ because theyâÂÂre so light.

IâÂÂd have to speak to pit girls and take pictures of the dayâÂÂs events. They didnâÂÂt have to twist my arm. For once, I was going to do what cockneys term âÂÂlarge itâÂÂ.

Two days after the Spanish grand prix had witnessed a crowd of 100,000, I was on the train to the near empty circuit with a â¬3.20 return ticket. The worldâÂÂs media were invited, but I was on the other side of the fence.

A lost looking Chinese journalist from Beijing was waiting at the station near the track. He was going to the launch too.

âÂÂWhere are you from?â he asked.
âÂÂAh, industrial,â he said.
âÂÂNot at all mate. ManchesterâÂÂs got the best beaches in Western Europe after Stoke.âÂÂ

How the other half live indeed...

We shared a taxi to the circuit two miles away. I was allowed in, he wasnâÂÂt. How the other half live, eh? I stuck by comrade journalist and got him in. The National Union of Journalists would have been proud, not that they have such unions in China.

âÂÂYouâÂÂve done well,â said Graham Hunter, who was there for Sky, dryly. Other journalists asked me if I could get them more time with Villa and Messi. I explained that I was supposed to be a fly on the wall and that stuff was nothing to do with me.

As the hack pack waited by the finish line on the racetrack, I was ushered into the garages by the pit lane to meet Messi and Villa. I tried to look as if I wasnâÂÂt enjoying it.

âÂÂAh, FourFourTwo,â said one of MessiâÂÂs agents.
âÂÂNot today,â I replied.
âÂÂWhat about tomorrow?â he asked.
âÂÂActually, IâÂÂm not really a journalist,â I lied, âÂÂIâÂÂm just doing this to raise money. IâÂÂve been offered a trial for a team in Argentina called NewellâÂÂs Old Boys. They want an ageing Englishman with a big nose to inject a bit of fight into their club. So IâÂÂll use the money to buy a flight.âÂÂ

âÂÂSeriously?â said Messi, suddenly interested. I had his attention and he was on good form answering questions.

Villa was next. The two get on, which is good news as theyâÂÂve since been confirmed as teammates for next season, although at the time any questions from journalists about his future were deadpanned out of respect to his contract with Valencia.

He had a copy of FourFourTwo and was trying to name all the players on the cover. He got them all. I had a list of questions for him, but changed one word in one question to confuse him.

âÂÂWhy is Cantabria renown as being the best region in the world?â I asked. Villa is proud to be from Asturias. Neighbouring Cantabria is definitely not Asturias in the same way that Manchester isnâÂÂt Liverpool.

He looked at my like I was mad before realising. If youâÂÂre a defender working out how to mark him and put him off his game, now you know a way into his mind.

I ask the pair to pose for a photo together. Pleasant, normal lads who just happen to be very, very good at association football. Then I told them what IâÂÂd do with it.

âÂÂIâÂÂm going to sell that picture to the Manchester newspaper with the headline, âÂÂUnitedâÂÂs New Signings Spurn The Chance To Be City Mercenaries.âÂÂ

âÂÂI dare you,â laughed one.

David and Lionel are already BFFs

Villa canâÂÂt speak English â and nor can Messi for that matter â but he had an English girl, Natalie, on hand, if he wanted to be converse in The QueenâÂÂs.

IâÂÂd not seen Natalie for five years. She used to work at Levante in Valencia and fixed me an interview with Levante legend Antonio Calpe when FourFourTwo did the More Than A Game derby feature on Valencia v Levante.

Calpe remains one of the best people IâÂÂve ever interviewed. He was a big star at Levante in the 60s and played at Real Madrid for six years. He remained popular in Levante circles â probably their best ever player - but had never been interviewed by a foreign journalist when I asked him.

So he put a suit on and his wife baked some cakes to give to me. He was lovely man. I could have listened to him all day, though IrâÂÂm sure Natalie had better things to do. His love of Levante was brilliant, and the way he slated Valencia, hilarious.

âÂÂListen, Englishman,â he said with a cheeky smirk. âÂÂValencia are thieves. They should not exist. You shouldnâÂÂt even be speaking to people from there for your article. You donâÂÂt know what youâÂÂll catch. Levante is the team of Valencia, the pride of the city. Forza Levante!âÂÂ

Villa might have similar thoughts about Cantabria, but itâÂÂll be another 25 years before he can tell me, and not on adidasâÂÂs time.

More Confessions of a Correspondent Features * News * Interviews * Home
Interact: TwitterFacebook * Forums


Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1