Florentino Perez says he would have signed Lionel Messi if the Barcelona forward had been as established star during his first spell as Real Madrid president.
Perez was first elected as president in 2000, partly on the promise of bringing in Luis Figo from rivals Barca, which kickstarted the "Galactico" era at Madrid.
Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham were among the players that followed Figo to the Santiago Bernabeu and Perez says Messi would also have been a target at the time.
"In my first spell as president I probably would have [tried to sign Messi]," he told Cadena Ser. "If Messi had existed [as he does now] when I was first president, he's exactly the type of player we would have signed."
Messi has not yet put pen to paper on his new contract with Barca, which was announced in July, and, in theory, could be available for free next summer, despite president Josep Maria Bartomeu's assurances that he is going nowhere.
But Perez, who was re-elected by Madrid in 2009 having left in 2006, ruled his club out of making what would be a sensational move for Messi.
"Not now," he said. "It [would be] really difficult. He's ingrained at the club [Barcelona] after so many years playing there."
Messi could well have ended up joining Madrid as a teenager.
The agent who arranged his Barcelona trial, Horacio Gaggioli, revealed earlier this year that only "life circumstances" at the last minute steered him away from the Spanish capital.
Instead of moving to Madrid, Gaggioli ended up in the Catalan city and subsequently alerted Barca to a 13-year-old in Rosario, Argentina.
Messi has gone on to become Barca's record goal scorer but doubts have emerged over his future at the club this summer, with his contract due to expire at the end of the season.
However, the club announced in July that an agreement had been reached for the 30-year-old to renew his contract and president Bartomeu said earlier this week that the player's father, Jorge Messi, has already signed the deal.