You wouldn't guess this guy if you lived to be 100.

What became of the Manchester City starlet Messi named his toughest opponent?

Lionel Messi has already named the toughest opponent he has ever faced during his illustrious career – and you wouldn’t guess his answer if you lived to the age of 100.

Messi has enjoyed tussles with some of the greatest defenders of their generation including Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Thiago Silva and Virgil van Dijk.

He’s also made a mockery of centre-backs with burgeoning reputations; who could forget Messi leaving Jerome Boateng on his backside in a 2015 Champions League semi-final or ragdolling Josko Gvardiol at Qatar 2022?

But it was during his Barcelona days that the 37-year-old came up against his toughest-ever opponent in the shape of Spanish right-back Pablo Maffeo, who was playing for Girona at the time.

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“Man-marking doesn’t bother me,” Messi said in a 2020 interview with DAZN. “You know that there will be tough matches and it can be strange to always have someone around you.

“In truth, it hasn’t happened to me that often. It doesn’t bother me, but it is strange. I’ve never been one who complains. I think physical contact and kicks are part of the game.

“Pablo Maffeo of Girona was the toughest. I’ve never been one who complains, but that [match] was intense!”

Messi was referencing Barcelona’s 3-0 win over the La Liga side back in 2017, when Maffeo, who was on loan at Girona from Manchester City, man-marked him the entire game.

“I get more annoyed when I play bad and I get a little more angry,” Messi said. “But if I’m not [playing bad], it’s not a problem, it’s part of the game and I don’t take it personally.”

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Despite being just 20 years of age, Maffeo refused to let the occasion get the better of him and made sure Messi didn’t get on the scoresheet.

Speaking after the game the defender explained: “Messi told me: ‘I’ve got you here for the whole day’ and I said: ’You’re the best in the world, I’m not going to leave you.

“He asked me how old I was, if I had been assigned by Manchester City and what it was like there. He said the marking was not pleasant.

“Messi and I were together the whole match. He has asked me a couple of things. He is a good person.”

Maffeo was once on Manchester City’s books, joining their academy in 2013, but would make just three senior appearances for the Blues before being sold to Stuttgart in 2018.

During his time in Manchester, Maffeo had three separate loan spells at Girona as the now 25-year-old struggled for opportunities.

Despite his lack of appearances for the Blues, Maffeo still looks back on his time at the Etihad with fondness. “I have never regretted going to City so young,” Maffeo told Sport.

“I spent nine years at Espanyol. All decisions are to get something. Just like I never regretted going to Stuttgart.

“In Manchester, I was very good, but it is true that I left very young and I had a very bad time at the beginning. Going there made me become a footballer.

“I was lucky enough to debut and be with [Pep] Guardiola. Leaving City is not the same as leaving a lower team, with all due respect. Leaving there you have more status.”

Maffeo is still in La Liga to this day with Real Mallorca. The 26-year-old made 24 appearances in 2023-24 as the island side reached the Copa del Rey final.

And whatever he achieves in the rest of his football career, Maffeo will always be remembered as the guy who drove Messi to distraction.

By Michael Lee