There I was sitting at plane seat 37J on an A-300, waiting for the passenger sitting on the aisle at 34H to stir or wake up.

Lionel Messi just might be the most photographed athlete on the planet. (USA TODAY Sports)

This story was written during the 2008 Olympics in China.

By Michael Lewis

SHANGHAI, China — There I was sitting at plane seat 37J on an A-300, waiting for the passenger sitting on the aisle at 34H to stir or wake up.

Instead of taking a much-needed nap, I was very much alert — looking ahead several rows for any signs of life from one Lionel Messi.

The Argentine Olympic team was among the final passengers to board Air China flight 1557 from Beijing to Shanghai Thursday morning and the soccer gold-medal favorites certainly got many of the other passenger’s attention, and some of the soccer fans’ really excited.

The main attraction, not surprisingly, was Messi, star of several teams, including the Argentina Olympic team, the National Team and a little Spanish club called Barcelona.

Several men in back of me obviously knew who the passenger in seat 34H was. Two men had video cameras and were trying to capture one of the most exciting soccer players on this planet to show their friends and family.

I had purposely taken down my camera from my knapsack and sacrificed some precious moments of sleep to get one little photo of the man known as “The Flea.”

By the way, Messi and his teammates will take the Netherlands in a men’s quarterfinal encounter at 6 p.m. Friday.

Like it or not, Messi is a celebrity. His size and his flowing locks make him fairly recognizable to soccer fans and media alike.

With my camera on my lap, watching Messi’s every move, I start to feel what a paparazzi goes through. A lot of waiting and focusing on your potential subject, ready to snap a photo that will disregard his or her’s privacy for the love of money (well, I was going to take Messi’s photo for BigAppleSoccer.com, not to sell to a tabloid magazine). I have to admit, I didn’t like it, not at all.

I refused to go in front of Messi and take a photo of him while he was asleep (he slept for most of the flight).

But like a good journalist, I tried to take notes on Messi’s every move.

When he wanted to move his seat back a bit, he looked behind him to make sure he wasn’t causing the other passenger any discomfort.

A BOCOG volunteer sat in a middle seat between Messi and a teammate. A member of the Argentine delegation convinced the volunteer to move to another seat so Messi had some extra room.

The plane landed and I thought I missed out on any chance of a Messi photo.

But good things come to those who wait. After getting off the plane, the Argentine team had congregated in the baggage section. I caught Messi sitting with some teammates. I aimed the camera at him and he feigned being asleep.

I got my prize. It wasn’t a Pulitzer Prize winning photo, but who cares?

This certainly is not a scoop, but how often do you get a chance to fly on the same plane as Lionel Messi?

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.