Hearts midfielder Cammy Devlin is set to reunite with Lionel Messi in China
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Cammy Devlin has been there, done that and literally got the Lionel Messi t-shirt. The only thing left is to actually face the Argentinian superstar he calls “a freak of nature” on the pitch. The Hearts midfielder’s wish might well become reality next week in China.
Devlin is in the Australia squad for a friendly against Messi and his South American world champions at Beijing’s recently-reopened Workers’ Stadium next Thursday. He famously got the legendary forward’s jersey after Australia’s defeat to Argentina at the World Cup in Qatar, but the Hearts man didn’t feature on the field during the tournament.
This time it should be different. Australia are without the experienced midfield pair of Jackson Irvine and Aaron Mooy, and coach Graham Arnold knows he must continue nurturing a new generation of Socceroos. Devlin is desperate to establish his credentials and impose himself on Messi knowing he would be up against perhaps the most talented human being ever to kick a football.
“I would love to, 100 per cent. I would love to leave one in on him,” joked the Tynecastle midfielder. “I remember during the game at the World Cup, sitting on the bench and just watching him up close “I’ve never done that before when I’m on the bench. I’m usually raging or just watching the game, but I was just fixated so much on him. To get on the park and get dribbled past and bring him down would be ideal.”
Devlin’s mind drifts back to childhood memories watching Messi on the rampage for Barcelona against Real Madrid. “I remember waking up with my little brother in the early hours in Australia before school to watch El Classico and watching him. But then being there and seeing him live, it was bizarre. I would love to get on and play against him.”
Footage of the pair embracing each other after that knockout tie in Qatar last year captured the imagination of Hearts fans and Australians alike. Devlin’s gumption in asking for Messi’s shirt paid off. It is now safely stored away in a secret location Down Under.
“It would be good to see him again, but I don’t think he’ll recognise me,” smirked Devlin. “It would be good to hopefully get selected and then to see him again. Obviously he’s a freak of nature so it would be pretty cool to see him play live again.”
The player is under no illusions about how far his career has progressed since joining Hearts less than two years ago. Indeed, he credits the Edinburgh club with helping him achieve a place in Arnold’s World Cup squad to start with. That helped him fulfil a lifelong ambition even if the game time did not materialise during any of Australia’s four matches.
“Just being at a World Cup was the coolest thing and something I would never have dreamed of happening growing up,” explained Devlin. “I’ve been lucky enough to be at Hearts, it wouldn’t have been possible without coming here and being given that opportunity. Just being in and around that environment, a high-pressure environment because you’re at the World Cup and you need to win games, and just training was special.
“I wasn’t lucky enough to play but just being there and seeing the quality of opposition you’re up against was fantastic. You find yourself just locking eyes on one player, maybe someone in your position. Against Argentina, it was definitely Messi. Just watching him and see the things he does is inspirational. You definitely take things from it, it was a very, very good experience.”
Messi turns 36 later this month and is now seeking a new club after leaving PSG. Reports suggest he will join David Beckham’s Inter Miami in the next few weeks and finish his playing career in the United States of America. First, he will captain Argentina in back-to-back friendlies against Australia in Beijing and Indonesia in Jakarta.
Australia have Devlin’s Hearts colleagues Kye Rowles and Nathaniel Atkinson in their squad alongside the St Mirren pair Ryan Strain and Keanu Baccus. It may be merely an end-of-season friendly in a far-flung location, but many of the Socceroos will arrive in China sensing a real opportunity to impress Arnold.
None more so than the midfielders with Mooy and Irvine absent. Devlin managed 43 appearances for Hearts in the season just ended and is likely to remain a key component of their midfield next term. He is eager to become a regular at international level, although there is stiff competition within the Socceroos squad.
Arnold explained after announcing his 23-man group for the Argentina assignment that there are several contenders to deputise for Irvine and Mooy. “Aiden O'Neill [Melbourne City] has been doing exceptionally well, Cam Devlin's playing at a good level every week, Denis Genreau [Toulouse]. I actually think he's more of a six than an eight,” explained Arnold.
“So now we've got that position and Keanu Baccus. So most important thing for this with short prep, going into China and being able to do this, is the players come in with really good energy. Conditions will be a little bit humid and warm. But you know, with the younger players who've got that, that energy in them that they'll run all day and fight and it's going to be great. I'm just so excited, I'm getting goose bumps now that we can play the World Champions so soon after a World Cup and get revenge.”