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.
IÃ¢ÂÂd be shadowing two footballers - Lionel Messi and David Villa - around the Formula One track near Barcelona. They wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be racing, but two F1 cars decked out in adidas colours would deliver the new boots that both will wear in South Africa Ã¢ÂÂ the theme being Ã¢ÂÂfastÃ¢ÂÂ because theyÃ¢ÂÂre so light.
IÃ¢ÂÂd have to speak to pit girls and take pictures of the dayÃ¢ÂÂs events. They didnÃ¢ÂÂt have to twist my arm. For once, I was going to do what cockneys term Ã¢ÂÂlarge itÃ¢ÂÂ.
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 Ã¢ÂÂ¬3.20 return ticket. The worldÃ¢ÂÂs 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.
Ã¢ÂÂWhere are you from?Ã¢ÂÂ he asked.
Ã¢ÂÂAh, industrial,Ã¢ÂÂ he said.
Ã¢ÂÂNot at all mate. ManchesterÃ¢ÂÂs got the best beaches in Western Europe after Stoke.Ã¢ÂÂ
How the other half live indeed...
We shared a taxi to the circuit two miles away. I was allowed in, he wasnÃ¢ÂÂt. 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.
Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂve done well,Ã¢ÂÂ 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 wasnÃ¢ÂÂt enjoying it.
Ã¢ÂÂAh, FourFourTwo,Ã¢ÂÂ said one of MessiÃ¢ÂÂs agents.
Ã¢ÂÂNot today,Ã¢ÂÂ I replied.
Ã¢ÂÂWhat about tomorrow?Ã¢ÂÂ he asked.
Ã¢ÂÂActually, IÃ¢ÂÂm not really a journalist,Ã¢ÂÂ I lied, Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂm just doing this to raise money. IÃ¢ÂÂve been offered a trial for a team in Argentina called NewellÃ¢ÂÂs Old Boys. They want an ageing Englishman with a big nose to inject a bit of fight into their club. So IÃ¢ÂÂll use the money to buy a flight.Ã¢ÂÂ
Ã¢ÂÂSeriously?Ã¢ÂÂ 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 theyÃ¢ÂÂve 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.
Ã¢ÂÂWhy is Cantabria renown as being the best region in the world?Ã¢ÂÂ I asked. Villa is proud to be from Asturias. Neighbouring Cantabria is definitely not Asturias in the same way that Manchester isnÃ¢ÂÂt Liverpool.
He looked at my like I was mad before realising. If youÃ¢ÂÂre 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 IÃ¢ÂÂd do with it.
Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂm going to sell that picture to the Manchester newspaper with the headline, Ã¢ÂÂUnitedÃ¢ÂÂs New Signings Spurn The Chance To Be City Mercenaries.Ã¢ÂÂ
Ã¢ÂÂI dare you,Ã¢ÂÂ laughed one.
David and Lionel are already BFFs
Villa canÃ¢ÂÂt speak English Ã¢ÂÂ and nor can Messi for that matter Ã¢ÂÂ but he had an English girl, Natalie, on hand, if he wanted to be converse in The QueenÃ¢ÂÂs.
IÃ¢ÂÂd 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 IÃ¢ÂÂve 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 Ã¢ÂÂ 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 IrÃ¢ÂÂm sure Natalie had better things to do. His love of Levante was brilliant, and the way he slated Valencia, hilarious.
Ã¢ÂÂListen, Englishman,Ã¢ÂÂ he said with a cheeky smirk. Ã¢ÂÂValencia are thieves. They should not exist. You shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt even be speaking to people from there for your article. You donÃ¢ÂÂt know what youÃ¢ÂÂll catch. Levante is the team of Valencia, the pride of the city. Forza Levante!Ã¢ÂÂ
Villa might have similar thoughts about Cantabria, but itÃ¢ÂÂll be another 25 years before he can tell me, and not on adidasÃ¢ÂÂs time.