Tactical Insights

A Sevilla club legend, journeyman goalkeeper and one player who ended up in the football backwater of Indian Premier League with Goa

  • Lionel Messi made his competitive Barca debut off the bench in October 2004
  • The unused substitutes against Espanyol that night had vastly different careers
  • Erik ten Hag has ‘lost the plot’ in ‘CAR-CRASH’ head coach role at Man United – Listen to the It’s All Kicking Off! podcast 

Lionel Messi made his competitive debut for Barcelona on October 16 2004, in a 1-0 away win over Espanyol. 

He had impressed in a friendly against Jose Mourinho‘s Porto in November 2003 – but almost a year later, he had still not cracked into the Catalan club’s first team.

Messi considered leaving the Nou Camp – and Mourinho reportedly wanted to bring him to Chelsea when he joined in the summer of 2004 – but he waited it out, until he was named on Frank Rijkaard’s bench for the LaLiga clash.

Messi came on, replacing the goalscorer Deco, whilst Andres Iniesta replaced Samuel Eto’o, and he went on to become an international icon.

But the five unused substitutes at the Montjuic Stadium that night – Ruben Martinez, Fernando Navarro, Carlos Pena, Damia Abella and Cristian Hidalgo – all led very different careers. 

Lionel Messi – pictured in May 2005 – made his first Barcelona appearance in October 2004
The unused substitutes that night all led very different paths to Messi (pictured in February)


Ruben Martinez

Substitute goalkeeper Ruben Martinez came through the youth system at Barcelona, having joined as a teenager in 1997, but had not made his senior debut for the club by October 2004.

Known simply as Ruben, he made just three appearances for the club, the first of those coming in December later that year, after Victor Valdes was sent off at Valencia.

After years on the fringes, and a loan spell at Racing Ferrol, he joined third tier Cartanega in 2008, and helped them to promotion.

He then played over 150 LaLiga appearances in spells with Malaga, Rayo Vallecano, Almeria, Levante, Deportivo La Coruna and Osasuna, as well as time in Belgium and Cyprus before hanging up his gloves in 2022. 

In 2018, Messi scored a hat-trick against him while he was in goal for Deportivo La Coruna, as Barcelona went on to claim their 25th LaLiga title.  

Fernando Navarro (R) achieved success with Sevilla, including two Europa League trophies

Fernando Navarro

The most successful of the unused substitutes, defender Fernando Navarro also came through the ranks at Barcelona, and went on to make 21 appearances for the Catalan giants.

He left Barcelona for Mallorca, after a loan spell led to a permanent transfer, and then made his way to Sevilla, where an eight-year spell was full of success.

The left-back made over 200 league appearances for Sevilla, winning the Copa del Rey in 2010, and back-to-back Europa League trophies in 2014 and 2015. 

While he only had two appearances for the Spanish national team, one of those was in the Euro 2008 group stage against Greece, a tournament which Spain went on to win. 

In 2015, he made his way to Deportivo La Coruna, and played his final three seasons there, before retiring from the game in 2018 – and in May 2019 he joined Sevilla’s sporting management team under the supervision of Monchi. 

Navarro (R) worked in Sevilla’s management with Monchi after his playing retirement in 2018

Carlos Pena

Left-back Carlos Pena also came through the Barcelona youth system, but despite 50 appearances for Barcelona C and over 100 for Barcelona B, he never got into the senior team.

He left for Albacete in Spain’s second tier in 2006, and spent three years there, before a one-year spell with Recreativo.

At Valladolid, a team he joined in 2010, he helped them to get promoted from the Segunda Division to LaLiga, where they played for two years before relegation back to the second tier. 

He also played for Oviedo, Getafe and Lorca in the Segunda Division, before ending his playing career with Goa in the Indian Super League in 2020.

He started his managerial career with Goa in 2022, lasting just over a year, before taking the reins at top Thai club Ratchaburi.  

Carlos Pena (L) helped Valladolid get promoted to LaLiga, where they remained for two years

Damia Abella

Full-back Damia was signed by Barcelona in 2004, at the age of 22, and made regular appearances for Barcelona B.

He made his debut for the senior side two weeks after the Espanyol game, and went on to win a LaLiga winners’ medal after making nine appearances for Rijkaard’s side. 

Damia had a loan spell at Racing Santander, helping them to narrowly avoid relegation in 2006, before joining Betis. 

English football fans may remember Damia from his spell at Championship side Middlesbrough, having been brought in by fellow Spaniard Altor Karanka in August 2014.

However, he played just seven competitive games for the North-East club, and retired shortly after the expiry of his contract in 2016. 

The Spaniard returned to the UK to help Watford as a Strategic Analyst, and is now a First-Team Statistical Analyst at West Bromwich Albion.  

Full-back Damia played for Middlesbrough, and is now a statistical analyst at West Brom

Cristian Hidalgo

Cristian Hidalgo was another La Masia graduate who never made a senior appearance for the club. 

He spent three years in LaLiga with Deportivo La Coruna between 2006 and 2009, and two years with second-tier Hercules, helping them to earn promotion to the Spanish top flight.

A short stint at Elche was followed by a journey around a varied assortment of European clubs, including Alki Larnaca in Cyprus, Cherno More Varna in Bulgaria, and Bnei Sakhnin in Israel. 

He joined Indian Super League side Chennaiyin as part of the Inaugural International Draft in 2014, making seven appearances and scoring one goal.

After spells in Morocco and Romania, he ended his career with Andorran side FC Ordino. 

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