Lionel Messi has called Inter striker Lautaro Martinez and “wants him by his side soon”, claims Racing’s president of youth football Adrian Ruben Fernandez, with a move to Barcelona considered to be “almost there”.
The Argentina international has emerged as a top target for the Liga champions.
A lucrative contract offer has been readied at Camp Nou, with Barca now working on an agreement with their European rivals in Milan.
Fernandez, who helped put Lautaro on a path to stardom when spotting his potential in South America, believes a big-money deal is now a matter of time – with Messi having made it clear he wants a fellow countryman to become the “ideal heir” to current No.9 Luis Suarez.
“Messi called him and wants him by his side soon, I have no doubt,” Fernandez told Sport.
“For that reason, the deal to sign him is almost there.
“I know things will go well in Barcelona and that Lautaro will be an excellent replacement for Suarez. He's the ideal heir. Thanks to Barca he will continue to grow as a player and a man.
“In terms of Argentine players, he has the same qualities as Sergio Aguero. I think he's on that path and will have a successful career like him. I would even say Lautaro is better in the air and much better with his left foot, but he will have to prove that with time. I hope he can.
“Going to play with the best player in the world, who is still 32 and has three or four years ahead of him... to be Messi's team-mate can make him even better and help him with the national team. Lautaro and Leo will improve their understanding on the pitch.”
Lautaro spent four years on the books at Racing before his special talent was lured to Europe in 2018.
On the ability that he noted at a young age, with Real Madrid snubbed along the way, Fernandez added: “I will never forget it. It was November 2013 and there were trials. Fabio Radaelli and Alfredo Acosta saw him on one of the teams and called me immediately: 'Adrian, there's an extraordinary player, we have to sign him whatever.'
“I told them our 1997 generation was already full of top talents, that we didn't have space, but Fabio insisted that we backed this kid, so we signed him. Lautaro came in January 2014 and lived at the academy for two or three years.
“He was a clever kid, focused and humble. He always knew he wanted to be a professional. He did everything possible to achieve it and never lost sight of his big objective.
“He rejected an offer when he was with us from Real Madrid. We told him the most important thing at that stage was to continue with Racing, to make his debut and to spend some time in the Argentine league. Luckily he listened to us and made his debut in October 2015 when he was just 18, coming on for none other than Diego Milito.
“Now, in Italy, he's showing everything we believed he would. He surprised us every day, despite being so young, because he was a complete forward and a pure goalscorer."