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Sampaoli: Everyone knew Messi when he was nine

Former Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli said Lionel Messi's talents had everyone excited even as a nine-year-old.

Like Messi, the Argentine coach - who guided Chile to their first ever Copa America title last year - hails from Rosario, and said everyone in town had heard of him by the time he was nine.

"Of course, we all did. He was eight or nine years old and playing against 14 and 15 year olds," he told AS.

"He was spectacular. They would only play him ten minutes so that the opponents didn’t suffer too much."

But Sampaoli was not willing to say the Barcelona star is better than Argentina legend Diego Maradona.

"It's tough to compare two players from two different eras," he said.

"The difference for me is that Maradona played more of an amateur-style, of pure passion. Messi is more professional."

Sampaoli is in Barcelona and attended the two most recent games at Camp Nou, a 2-1 win for Real Madrid in La Liga and Barca's 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals first leg.

The 56-year-old said he felt that Barcelona had gone away from the ideals that made them great under Pep Guardiola, suggesting they were more about individuals than the overall team effort.

"Recently they’ve become a team that is too individualistic," he said. "It may also be the case that the off the field issues affecting Messi and Neymar are affecting them on the pitch.

"The most serious issue, though, is that they struggle in defence. They let in goals almost every match.

"Of course [they have Messi]. And Neymar. We’ll soon see if they manage to keep them both because offers will definitely arrive and it will be hard to turn them all down."