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Olympic sailing champ on his encounter with Messi and Mascherano at Barcelona.
It is not often Lionel Messi is star struck but then Santiago Lange is not your normal athlete.
Messi, and teammate Javier Mascherano, are no stranger to bringing Argentina to a halt but Lange also achieved the feat with sailing gold at Rio 2016, remarkably less than a year after having most of one lung removed following a cancer diagnosis.
But the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was quick to get an Argentina shirt signed by the 55-year-old sailor when he recently turned up for Barcelona training just before the team picked up a 5-0 victory over Celta Vigo, in which Messi scored twice.
Lange, modest to the core, downplays what the encounter meant to arguably the world’s best footballer: “It was something very special and really nice and above all I value the human part of #people above their success, their position and their abilities.
“And Messi just like Javier Mascherano were very simple, very friendly and very much speaking equal to equal. Once more, they showed that who you are as a person is more important than who you are as an athlete.”
Lange makes no secret of the fact he is a Barcelona fan. He has a home in the city, where he has lived much of the year since 1991, and has been in rapture to the city’s iconic football side, which currently thrills crowds with Messi, Neymar Jr and Luis Suarez upfront, for the intervening quarter of a century.
His recent invitation to the club dates back to his gold-winning performance last August, which led both Messi and Mascherano to tweet their congratulations on social media.
A chance conversation with a friend with affiliations to the Spanish club then opened the way for his training ground visit, followed by spending a game in the presidential box and another meeting with the players after their latest victory.
“I sent an email asking and that was it,” says Lange of the story behind his Nou Camp visit. “The following day I received a very nice invitation from FC Barcelona asking me to watch a game in the presidential box and spend a little bit of time with Leo and Masche.
“They gave me a shirt with my name signed by Leo and Masche, and the president delivered me that shirt. I value this shirt because it’s a club I really admire for its value. It’s a beautiful one. I was able to go with my sons to watch the game and it really was an unforgettable night.”
Lange is the first to admit it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to the extent that “I never wanted the game to end”. He adds: “It was a wonderful show just like seeing a rock band, and you want another song at the end, you just don’t want it to end.”
In conversation, the players asked about his decision to sail onto the next Olympics in 2020 by which stage he will be edging ever closer to his 60th birthday, while in turn Messi and Mascherano talked of what would likely be their last shot at World Cup glory two years earlier.
While their sporting achievements are either ends of the spectrum, Lange admits they have a common goal.
“They live for Argentina,” he says. “They would give anything to win a World Cup for Argentina and I realise that they really have this under their skin and their heart. It was just good to hear that."
While at the club, Lange says he was like a sponge, lapping up every facet of information he could from the scientific approach to every training session, to the players’ professionalism and their humble approach in everything they do.
Lange says: “For me, all cross-discipline work is fascinating because you learn a lot and it’s really interesting to see how many factors are useful in one #sport like another.”
But was their anything Messi and co could learn from him? Not so, apparently: “I’m very humble here. I don’t feel suited to give them any sort of advice, absolutely not.”
Their lives, though, he insists are poles apart: “One of the many things that I admire with the players is what they have to live and go through. They are so popular and anything they do has a media impact.
"That must be difficult. Obviously it’s like an oceanic difference between them and us. We are used to training without a stadium and they are on the field where 80,000 #people sing their names. These differences are too great to be analysed.”
For Lange, old enough to have known Diego Maradona in his pomp, he believes Messi is the better player of the Argentinian greats.
But he is also full of praise for the less-heralded Mascherano, who himself paid tribute to Lange for his own fighting spirit during the Games.
“There are some elite athletes that I admire like Nadal or Federer and Masch is one of them. More importantly because of his fighting spirit and behaviour. If there is a Barca player that illustrates what fighting is it’s Mascherano. Saying these words means a lot.”
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