It might not happen this summer, but one day at Barcelona Lionel Messi will clear out his locker and someone else will have to wear the No 10 shirt. Whoever it is he could do worse than go and speak to Steve Archibald.
The former Scotland international is on good form drinking tea in a Barcelona cafe and remembering how when he signed for the Catalan club in 1984 it was to replace Diego Maradona, no less.
It’s the stuff of legend how he inherited the No 10 because already-established midfielder Bernd Schuster didn’t want to have to wear it. And that Maradona had not cleared the aftershaves and lotions out of his locker before he left for Napoli that summer.
Steve Archibald inherited Barcelona’s No 10 shirt off Argentine icon Diego Maradona
There was huge pressure to fill the void left by Maradona, but Archibald took it in his stride and helped Barcelona win La Liga for the first time in 11 years
At least the locker smelled okay then? ‘I smelled pretty good when I was putting it all on,’ Archibald jokes.
‘I knew Maradona was a humongous figure in football and if you are going to try to replace him you’re on to a loser because it’s impossible. The key for me has always been the confidence to score a goal, whether it be for Aberdeen against against the Old Firm, or playing against Manchester United or Liverpool when I was at Spurs. Why would I doubt myself?’
His self-belief was well founded. After the £1.15million transfer from Tottenham he scored on his Barcelona debut at Real Madrid and helped them win La Liga for the first time in 11 years.
There’s a pattern there too. He’d previously helped Aberdeen win their first Scottish title in 25 years. And in his first season at Spurs he was top scorer and they won the FA Cup, their first trophy in seven years.
Will Messi live to regret it if, as seems increasingly likely, he doesn’t try another top European League before he retires? ‘No, he’s won everything here,’ says Archibald. ‘The only thing he hasn’t won is the World Cup and there’s not too much he can do about that.
‘He’s got everything here: fans that love him to bits and a team that plays for him. He’s at one of the biggest clubs in the world and he’s happy. I don’t think he’ll be looking to go elsewhere.’
Barcelona have a huge job on their hands to keep Argentine star Lionel Messi at the club
Archibald caught up with Sportsmail about his time with Spanish giants Barcelona
Barcelona are busy trying to put together the sort of package that will make Messi sign a new contract this summer. There’s even a suggestion that Sergio Aguero could be used to sweeten the deal – his Argentinian pal is set to leave Manchester City on a free and certainly wants to join.
‘I would take Aguero in a flash,’ the man Barcelona fans still fondly remember as ‘Archigoles’ says.
‘He’s a top finisher, he’s movement is fantastic. I would say he’s a step up on even Luis Suarez in terms of the very last move he makes in the area to get on to the final pass.
‘And it’s intuitive with him. You see it in Suarez too but Aguero has an extra edge to him in that final moment. I think it would work fantastically well, as long as he is fit of course.’
Archibald believes the key when Messi does eventually leave will be to not try to replace him with something similar.
‘There may be another Messi coming along, but there isn’t one now so you have to do something different,’ he says.
‘Barcelona are not stupid and neither is [Ronald] Koeman. He knows that Messi is the only one who can make it work the way it works now. If Messi goes they will have to re-organise.’
Archibald admitted he would take Man City striker Sergio Aguero ‘in a flash’ at the Nou Camp
Barcelona re-organised post-Maradona with the Argentine’s unpredictable genius replaced by Archibald’s consistently clinical finishing. The change brought success and he still has fond memories of winning the league under Terry Venables who had brought him to the club.
‘We made a point of celebrating it in Madrid having gone 11 years without winning it,’ he says. ‘Then on the motorway back into Barcelona from the airport it took us five hours to reach the city centre. Normally it’s a 15-minute journey but there were celebrating fans blocking the bus on the motorway, it was incredible.
‘When I negotiated my contracted with vice-president Joan Gaspar he said to me: it’s a lot of money. I said: but I’m coming to score a lot of goals. What if I score 20 goals?
‘He said if you score that many goals we’ll double your contract and we’ll put a statue in the city of you. I kept him to his word on the wages; I didn’t want to push him on the statue.’
Archibald is currently collaborating on a documentary that pays tribute to Venables’ huge and sometimes over-looked contribution to the modern Barca that went on to win European Cups under Johan Cruyff and then Pep Guardiola.
‘I wish people could understand what Terry did here,’ he says. ‘It’s amazing what he achieved.
‘The whole crafty cockney thing goes out the window when you turn up in a new country. No one knows what that is. But when he gives his first speech in front of 70,000 people he delivered it in their Catalan language and I thought: f**k! If he can do that then I can score goals here.
Archibald helped Barcelona win La Liga in 1984-85 thanks to his consistently clinical finishing
‘And he was way ahead of his time tactically. It was two weeks from taking over that he had everybody convinced. It was solid defence first and freedom going forward – a light went on with all the players.’
The tactics were also based on a ferocious pressing game. ‘It would start with me and everyone would go with me. We won the ball back very quickly high up the pitch,’ he says.
The team were beaten on penalties by Steaua Bucharest in the 1986 European Cup final and with Archibald substituted before they failed to score from any of their spot-kicks.
He believes Venables’ legacy would be very different if they had won the final.
‘That’s my big regret,’ he says. ‘He deserved it. The team deserved it.
‘It bothers me that we could not take the last step. And sometimes they bring down the achievement of that team and everything goes towards Johan (Cruyff).
‘How many chances did Sampdoria miss at Wembley in ’92! Johan had the luck and Terry didn’t.
‘I liked Johan and we got on really well and I loved his style of play. I was happy for the club when they won it in ’92. But I would have given my left arm to have won it.’
Archibald praised the legacy that his former manager Terry Venables left at Barcelona
Archibald is collaborating on a documentary paying tribute to Venables’ contribution to Barca
There’s a lot about the modern game that Archibald doesn’t like. ‘A strong sneeze and you’re down’, he says of the way players win penalties. He is not anti-VAR but believes it should be used against divers.
And of the five subs rule he adds: ‘How can you make three or four tactical changes in a game and not confuse the hell out of the players?’
He has also got plenty of stories around the characters that shaped his career. ‘Fergie was aggressive,’ he says. ‘Always on, never off’.
He recalls Sir Alex Ferguson’s first ever training session being open to the press and a reporter shouting across: Fergie! Fergie! Fergie! Fergie!
The new boss stopped the session to roar back at the gentleman from the press: Do you know me personally? Have we met? When the guy said no he continued: Well then why are you calling me Fergie. It’s Mr Ferguson.
‘That was his first day. Let’s just say it made an impression on the players,’ says Archibald.
But he’s not just lived off the anecdotes since retiring in 1996. He has always had an entrepreneurial spirit honed working as a mechanic when he was coming through as a young striker at Clyde and doing cars up to sell to team-mates.
Jump forward to 2017 and he set up the energy group FC Energia which offers renewable energy to businesses across Spain.
Archibald also opened up on Sir Alex Ferguson’s hard-hitting approach to management
‘My partner in the business is Nexus Energia, a billion dollar company and the biggest green energy company in the country,’ he says.
He says that having grown the company and reduced costs into the millions to save it; creating various tariffs including a ‘hero tariff’ for medical workers during the pandemic; he now finds himself in the middle of what he calls: ‘a really aggressive hostile takeover’ adding: ‘Watch this space; wish me luck.’
‘I thought that it was a job well done but my multinational partner Nexus Energia want to remove me from the company, maybe its just what happens at this level of business, the big guy crushes the little guy and takes control. But not without a fight in this instance!’
He fought hard his entire career on the pitch. Never more so than when he had to wear the jersey worn by the greatest player football fans had seen at that point. Which brings us to a final question: ‘Shouldn’t Barcelona just retire the No 10 shirt when Messi finally leaves?
‘No, I think that’s ludicrous,’ says Archibald. ‘There are lots of players throughout history who have left their clubs and then you’ve thought: what’s going to happen to the club now? Is it the end?
‘But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it won’t happen to Barcelona. They know how to regenerate. They know how to renew.’