Messi – I Feel Really Good
At the age of just 20, Lionel Messi is already one of the best footballers in the world. The forward talks about his club, Barcelona, the Argentinian national team, his family and life on and off the pitch.
FIFA magazine: How do you currently feel about life at Barcelona, the Argentinian national team and football in general?
Lionel Messi: I feel really good, happy; I’m enjoying myself because fortunately, things are turning out as I want them to, which is always important. I’m really enjoying myself.
It is said that Barcelona play the best football in the world. Do you agree?
Messi: I think so, it’s difficult to prove, but I think that we play great football and that best indicator is that I, for one, really enjoy playing with my team-mates on the pitch. That means the team is playing well.
How did you find the process of adapting to the Spanish first division? You are a more unusual case because although you are Argentinian, you came to La Masia, where Barcelona’s academy is based, at a very young age. Did you notice any difference in terms of physicality when you made it into the first team? Was there much difference compared to youth team matches?
Messi: I think that I had a smooth transition from the youth team to the first team thanks to the coach – that’s why I’ll always be grateful to Frank Rijkaard, who broke me in gradually, and all my team¬mates, who really helped me establish myself in the first team.
It’s good to hear that, as the public generally tend to think that young players are upset when the coach does not select them for the first team and react badly when they are not included.
Messi: Of course you want to play, that’s normal, but now I understand what Rijkaard wanted and later, when you think about it calmly, you realise that it’s for the best and that it has to be gradual like that; that you have to get used to the first team rather than jump in the deep end, so I’m very grateful for the way they handled me.
How do you cope with injuries? You had a serious one that kept you on the sidelines for a long time. Do you ever worry that it might recur or that you might get injured again?
Messi: No, actually I don’t think about that – if it’s going to happen, it will and if you think about, it’ll only be worse. But I don’t think about that, 1 try only to think about playing. I don’t think about how to avoid injuries either, I play the same as always.
You play for Barcelona and Argentina, two teams with great players but also two different styles of play. Does that require any adaptation?
Messi: No, it comes naturally. It’s easy because both teams have great players, but it’s difficult because there’s a different system and little time available to prepare for the matches, so it’s just as well that the quality of my team-mates helps to overcome these obstacles.
Where do you feel most comfortable: as a creative midfielder, a classic “number ten” as they say in Argentina, the position you played when Argentina won the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the Netherlands in 2005, or as a right winger who makes diagonal runs into the box, like at Barcelona?
Messi: I prefer to play in the middle in a slightly withdrawn role, but I’ve been playing in another position for more than four years and I feel comfortable there and it’s been a long time since I last played in my preferred position, so I’m used to it now.
In what areas do you think that Barcelona need to improve this season so that they don’t suffer the same fate as last year when they won only one of the seven competitions they played in?
Messi: I think that we had a lot of games last season and that we were unable to handle them and finish them off— we would end up suffering until the other team equalised. We have to learn from that, but we also have to leave last season behind and think about what we have now.
Maybe something similar happened to you at the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela. Argentina were the team that played the best football, but were taken by surprise by Brazil in the final.
Messi: Yes, everyone agreed that Argentina were the best team in terms of play, but a final is something different, particularly against Brazil; they scored an early goal and everything changed.
There is some controversy about whether Argentina forwards such as you, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero are too short. Given that some teams attach such importance to their aerial game, is it possible to play football these days without being tall?
Messi: It’s not an issue for me, particularly since we Argentinians love to keep the ball on the ground.
You are no doubt aware that you are already being compared with footballing geniuses like Diego Maradona or Pele and that during the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ in Germany you even appeared in murals. You are also the talking point when people discuss Argentina. How do you react to this situation?
Messi: I’m relaxed about it. I’ve said many times when people have compared me with Maradona that there is no comparison; I concentrate on playing, just playing, which is what I like doing.
You scored two goals against Getafe in last season’s Copa del Rey, just like Maradona against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Did they have any special meaning for you?
Messi: It was nice because of the goals and what people said about them, but it’s in the past now.
How does it make you feel when you hear people chanting “Messi, Messi”?
Messi: I’m used to it now, but of course it’s nice when people recognise you in the street and say pleasant things to you, it makes me happy. I’m also very happy to have been chosen as one of the three nominees for FIFA World Player 2007. It’s a great honour to be there and it makes me happy to be among the best players [this interview was conducted before the FIFA World Player Gala 2007 on 17 December - ed.]
You have lived with your family in Barcelona for many years. What is your life like away from football?
Messi: I live with my brother, my sister-in-law and my parents. My whole family live here and fortunately we are very close-knit, I share everything with them, everything is very easy.
You have a footballing cousin, Maxi Biancucchi of Flamengo, who is also very well known, although nobody believes him when he says he’s a relative of yours. Have you ever played together?
Messi: No, we’ve never played together but like me, he’s also a short, pacy forward; he’s a very good player.
But I think people believe he’s my cousin now [laughs].
How do you cope with fame and the temptations that lie in wait for a 20-year-old who has come so far? Barcelona have already given you a bodyguard, for example.
Messi: 1 do what I’ve always done, whatever I feel like in that particular moment. To be honest, when I go out I don’t think about whether I’m well known or not. If I feel like stopping somewhere, I stop, and if I feel like going for a walk with my family, I do that as well.
Are you as fond of the PlayStation as you were before?
Messi: I haven’t played for a long time, but I always used to play with my teams, Barcelona and Argentina …
If you were a coach, what would your approach be? Attacking or defensive?
Messi: I play attacking football on the PlayStation, but it would be more complicated if 1 were a coach.
What kind of music do you like?
Messi: I follow everything associated with Argentina from Barcelona and I particularly like cumbia [Colombian dance music] and cuartetos [dance music that originated in Cordoba, Argentina], but I listen to all kinds of music.
What about television programmes?
Messi: I watch all kinds of programmes as well, from soap operas to dramas; I watch them on satellite TV and I forget that I’m far away from home.
Do you like watching football?
Messi: I watch it every now and then of course, but I don’t like watching it on TV much.
Which players do you like?
Messi: Ronaldinho obviously, but also great footballers like Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco; I’ve also had a lot of admiration for Pablo Aimar ever since I was a boy.