It’s not every day that Lionel Messi sits down to give extensive interviews. Recently he sat down with El Pais to discuss a range of topics: his past as a youth player, Real Madrid, and the characteristics that define Tito Vilanova’s FC Barcelona. Excerpts from the interview are after the jump (full interview here).
Do you feel like you’ve paid Barça back for what it did for you when you were a child?
No, no … I always want to show that I’m committed to the club. Maybe it was more noticeable when I started playing for the team. This is my home, my club. I owe everything to Barça. And, like I’ve always said, I’m very happy here.
You’ve said that you’re not preoccupied with your personal goal tally but with titles. Is there a title that you especially want to win?
Yes, I prefer to win titles with the team before individual prizes or outscoring everyone. I’m more concerned about being a good person than being the best footballer in the world. Besides, in the end, when all this is over, what can you take with you? My hope is that when I retire that I’m remembered as a good guy. I like to score goals, but I also like to be friends with the people I play with. It’s good to be valued as a person, it’s important that they have a good concept of who you are beyond being the guy that scores a lot of goals.
What about the possibility of winning your fourth Ballon d’Or?
Prizes are always great. I appreciate them, of course. But deep down, this is something that you [the press] are more concerned with … the questions about who is better than whom are constant. Xavi or Iniesta? Who knows the answer to that? I’m lucky to have landed at this Barça, where there are excellent players. They have given me everything: the individual awards, the titles, the goals, everything. This team has reserved its spot in history for everything that it has already won. I’m lucky that I get to play here and that I get to play for Argentina, where I get to play with fantastic players. It’s so fundamental to be able to play with quality teammates. This team makes me a better footballer, that’s for sure. Without the help of my teammates, I would be nothing, I wouldn’t win anything. No individual awards, no titles, nothing.
What makes you mad?
I don’t like to lose.
What about outside of football?
In life, I hate poverty. I come from a country where poverty is very noticeable. There are many children that have no other alternative but to beg on the street or try to find work … we’re talking about very young children.
You have a foundation that helps at-risk children
Yes, we’re focused on education, we’re trying to get them off the streets through education and sports. We’re working with UNICEF, hospitals, schools … it’s nice to be able to help.
You light up when children come up to you. Why is that?
Children are pure, especially when they’re young. They see you and they transform. Some of them are shy. They don’t talk, they don’t understand why I’m there or why I’m talking with them. They only see me on TV so when they see me in person they are frightened. I’m most fulfilled when I make a child happy.
You’re always being watched because you’re famous. Is it suffocating?
No, because I’m not acting. I’m the same person on and off the pitch. It doesn’t bother me that I’m looked at all the time because I’m just being me. I’m always me. At first I did shy away a bit, but that was a long time ago.
You once said it’s more difficult to emulate Iniesta or Xavi than it is to do what you do on the pitch. Is it easy to do what you do?
I do what I can to help the team … I wouldn’t know how to play like them. I only try to help the team, always. I really don’t like to lose and I try to help so that we can win. I’ve always said that I go out onto the pitch with the intention of winning, not scoring goals.
Tito says that what you do against the best footballers in the world is exactly what you used to do against your 14-year-old adversaries.
My style of play hasn’t changed much, it’s true, even though it’s obvious that I’ve learned a lot of things since I started. It helped that I came to Barcelona and that I got to learn in the team’s youth system. Just yesterday I got the chance to watch the seven year-olds train, the way the youth players are trained here is different. When I was a kid, they taught me to play the ball, take care of it, tactics and how to understand the game. The youngsters play just like we do! I’ll always be surprised by that.
What does it say about Barça’s youth system that you and two of your team-mates from that U14 team now play with the senior side?
It’s an example of how Barcelona works. We knew that team had one of the best generations in Barcelona youth football. In my first team (U14) there were three players [Piqué, Cesc, and Messi], but there were other players that went on to be professionals like Vázquez and Valiente – both of whom have played for Spain. But we knew that most of us would make it, and if it wasn’t for Barça’s first team, we knew that we would be able to make a living playing football for another good club.
Did you ever get in trouble when you were a youth player…
I don’t remember! [laughs]. I’m sure we got in trouble because we were a good group of footballers, but we were dangerous!
Is it true that Piqué would defend you from cynical tackles?
Yes, he was a pretty big kid and we were all small. Papá [Daddy] would defend us all.
It’s surprisingly difficult to knock you off the ball and you don’t dive either…
It’s from when I was a kid. It’s always been that way. I always tried to finish the play. I don’t know … I never looked for it, never took to diving.
They say that when you were a youth player that you were the only player that was never corrected, that your characteristics were always respected.
I was corrected, but I don’t really remember anything specific. They did respect my way of playing, but it’s true that the philosophy here is to play one-touch football. But I never passed the ball! They told me many times to get rid of the ball earlier but they realised that it wasn’t working and they gave up. Little by little I started passing the ball more. But when I first started playing… I didn’t give it to anyone!
What defines this team?
The best thing about this team is that we always try to win our games. But above all, it’s that this team has ambition. Even after everything we’ve won, we still get upset if we lose a scrimmage in a training session. That’s the best thing about this team, our ambition.
Is Pep responsible for that?
Yes, Pep showed us the way and we followed him. He made us play with the intention of always having the initiative, to always try and score. He gave us the attitude and the belief that we could win. It was spectacular. He is phenomenal in his match analysis and how he prepares his players for games. I don’t think we’ll ever see another manager like him.
Rijkaard was the first. Are you still mad that you didn’t play in the Paris final?
I practically owe everything to Rijkaard. He was the first to have confidence in me, he gave me my debut with the first team when I was young, he knew how to handle me. He was wise in not letting me play [the Paris final], at the time I didn’t understand and I was upset about it, but then I understood. Everything that came afterwards is thanks to him.
Which Clásico do you remember the most?
I remember all the ones we won. It’s the best thing to beat Madrid. They are a fantastic team. But if I have to pick one game, I’d go with the semi-final in the Champions League, because of what it meant for Barça.
You like to score goals on Casillas. What’s the deal, do you not like him?
No, quite the opposite. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to score in the most recent games against Madrid. I hope that can continue. Iker is a great keeper, one of the best. I have scored on him, but he’s saved so many of my attempts. He’s very good and very fast.
What do you admire the most about Madrid?
I really like to play at the Bernabéu. Madrid are a club with a lot of history.
What about Mourinho’s team?
Real Madrid kills you on the counter. They have extremely fast forwards and the defence-attack transition is done in less than five seconds, then they score. They don’t have to play well to score goals. They create a lot of chances because the players are very, very good. I’m lucky enough to have played alongside Higuaín and Di María. ‘El Pipa’ touches two balls and he scores two goals … From nothing Madrid can score on you.
Source: ElPais.com, English translation: fcbarcelona.com; Image Credit: Miguel Ruiz (FCB)