Italian football legend Andrea Pirlo has revealed he was twice close to joining La Liga.
The Juventus and AC Milan icon is one of the greatest midfielders of the 21st century, winning the World Cup, two Champions Leagues and six Serie A titles.
Having started out in his native Brescia, Pirlo joined Inter Milan, before the Nerazzurri made the terrible decision to let him join rivals Milan, where he became a legend.
The now 44-year-old spent a decade at Milan where he won the European Cup twice, and just as his career seemed about to end, he got a second wind and dominated again with Juve.
His path could have been much different, however, with Pirlo now revealing he was close to joining Barcelona and Real Madrid, and he has even put pen to paper on a deal with the latter team.
The midfield maestro had just won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, but a Serie A match-fixing scandal nicknamed ‘Calciopoli’ had thrown Milan’s future in the top flight into doubt.
Pirlo explained: “After Calciopoli, we had just won the World Cup and we didn’t know how Italian football was going to resume.
“I had already signed the contract with Real Madrid, but then Milan stayed in Serie A and the Champions League, then I signed (a contract extension) with the Rossoneri.”
The Spanish were still in love with Pirlo despite his rejection, and in 2010 it was the turn of Barcelona and Pep Guardiola to make a move, which once again failed.
“During the Joan Gamper Trophy, Guardiola called me into his office because he wanted me at Barcelona,” Pirlo remembers.
“At the same time, the idea and the possibility of (Zlatan) Ibraihimovic coming to Milan was also taking shape. Finally, Ibra arrived and I stayed too.
Despite Pirlo’s loyalty to Milan, they did not make an exception to their rule regarding one-year contracts beyond 30, and he left for Juve in 2011.
There, the megastar won four more Serie A titles and returned to the Champions League final in 2015, losing to Real Madrid, the team he had first rejected nine years earlier.