Pablo Zabaleta revealed Manchester City players were putting Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo up in the locker room after being taken over in 2008.
Zabaleta joined City from Espanyol in that year as the Abu Dhabi United Group took over the club, leading to big spending by the Premier League outfit.
The full-back said City players were preparing to welcome Barcelona star Messi and Ronaldo, then at Manchester United, to the club.
"Ten days after my arrival, the purchase of the club by the people of Abu Dhabi is executed," Zabaleta told La Nacion.
"Four days later, they invest £40 million for Robinho and there I said, 'Now what do I do? I'm going to last six months here.'
"We took it a bit as a joke and ... in the locker room we started putting 'Messi', 'Cristiano Ronaldo'. We were s******* ourselves."
Zabaleta, who left City for West Ham in 2017, is nearing retirement from club football.
The 35-year-old last played for Argentina in 2016 and the 58-time international discussed Messi's impact on the nation, saying it was greater than just on the field.
"In addition to everything it would have lacked on the field, without Leo, the AFA [Argentine Football Association] would have had much less money," Zabaleta said.
"Of course Leo generated fabulous income and that meant that Argentine clubs also had more money. In the improvements of the infrastructure of Argentine soccer, there is Leo.
"Leo is a product that generates millions, and Argentine football will have to be grateful all his life because for him, the AFA had millions of dollars that he will surely have poured into the clubs."