I was dubbed the 'Israeli Messi' after coming through Barcelona's academy.. I ended up playing 5-a-side in Stockport | The Sun
HE WAS once dubbed the "Israeli Lionel Messi" and appeared to have the world at his feet.
He was playing in Barcelona's academy with dreams of breaking through and becoming a Nou Camp star for Pep Guardiola.
And he was on Manchester City's books when Sergio Aguero scored THAT goal to win the Premier League title in 2012.
But he ended up playing 5-a-side football on an indoor pitch in an industrial estate outside Stockport – without a single league appearance for either European powerhouse.
That is the incredible story of Gai Assulin.
Assulin said: "They like to compare in football. It is something they do all the time and for me it is a big compliment, but Messi is the greatest footballer in history.
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“Sometimes it is not good if you take it in the wrong way, as the expectation is for you to go on to the pitch and do the same as Messi all the time.
"Whichever club I went to, they saw I was compared with Messi, so they thought I was going to be Messi and score 50 goals a year, so that comparison at the time was not as positive."
The winger was born in the Israeli city of Nahariya in April 1991 and his impressed coaches at Shlomo Scharf suggested the 12-year-old's parents took him to Barcelona for a trial.
Assulin's parents did exactly that and Barcelona liked what they saw, signing him for the La Masia academy in 2003.
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He shone under a certain Guardiola, Barcelona B coach, and penned a three-year senior contract with a £17million release clause aged 16.
And when Guardiola was promoted to first-team boss in 2008 having guided the B team to the league title, Assulin was tipped to earn a promotion with the likes of Thiago Alcantara and Jonathan dos Santos.
Thiago even said his Barca youth pal was "the most talented player I’ve ever seen in La Masia", where he earned his nickname comparing him to the Argentine maestro.
After making his solo Israel cap in 2008, he missed almost the entirety of the 2008-09 season with injury, though, but recovered to make his first-team debut in the Copa del Rey against Cultural Leonesa.
But that proved to be Assulin's only appearance for Barcelona before his release in July 2010 when he rejected a new contract due to a lack of guarantee over first-team football and a reported rift with Barcelona B boss Luis Enrique.
He signed for City that summer after advice from Yaya Toure but was restricted to reserve matches and a loan to Brighton before his release alongside Owen Hargreaves in 2012.
A journeyman career followed taking Assulin back to the Spanish second division as well as spells in Israel, Kazakhstan, Romania and Italy.
'STOPPING NOT AN OPTION'
However, the former Football Manager wonderkid, now 31, returned to the North-West where his young daughter is growing up.
He has not given up hope on a return to professional football again one day – but in the meantime keeps his sharpness with a regular kickabout in Cheadle Hulme.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2021, Assulin added: “Football is something irreplaceable.
"Everything I did in my career is obviously connected to the football I learned in Barcelona and especially coached by Pep.
“I grew up as a kid in Israel, in a small town and my dream was to play first-team football for a professional club.
"I gave everything with my dad, who pushed me the most because he really believed in me.
"I never thought in a million years I would be playing for the first team at Barcelona – that was so far from my dream.
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"I only dreamed to play for a normal club, but things got better and better, so I have achieved that, so that will always stay with me. I was the youngest player to represent the Israel national team, which is an unbelievable achievement.
"When you can’t find a club, there are a lot of thoughts in your head, ‘What should I do? Should I stop?’ But it is not an option for me, as football is everything."
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