Messi Uncut…

Lionel Messi spoke exclusively to Sky Sports’ Fenner about his career at FC Barcelona, his admiration for Pep Guardiola and his thoughts on the EPL.

Many people assume your talent is natural. How hard did you work at your game?

LIONEL MESSI: My style of play has always been the same from when I was a kid, and as I was growing I got better and learnt more. Obviously coming to the academy at Barcelona from a young age helped a lot as it showed me what it is l

ike to work here and that the possession-based game is different from what it is like in Argentina. Ultimately, it helped me grow.

Do you ever crave the anonymity you had as a child when you played for Newell’s?

No, not really. The truth is that things had to happen the way th

ey did and I don’t regret anything. Much the contrary, I am very grateful to Barcelona for their confidence in me and for giving me the opportunity I had as a kid and for making me the player I am today.

Football genius or god?

It took quite a while for you to break through to the first team. Did you ever think of going elsewhere or going back to Argentina?

No, honestly I didn’t. There were some difficult moments at the start as I was very young and it was a big change for me and my family, but I always had it clear that I wanted to stay here in Barcelona and triumph here in the first team. That was my goal and I was lucky to get it at a young age so, in that respect, I didn’t have to wait too long, but I have never wanted to leave here.

Is it true that when Gerard Pique first met you he said ‘how is this kid going to play with us, he looks like my little brother?’

Maybe, to be honest I don’t remember. I was very small when I arrived and there was a noticeable difference in size between the kids of my age, both in football as well as in school. There was a noticeable difference.

He was one of the players that would protect you when other players were kicking you, wasn’t he?

Yeah, I’ve always had good team mates in every category I have played in. I’ve always been the smallest and I’ve had to play against rivals who are much superior to me, not just in size but also in age. I always felt protected by my team mates.

Is it true you would break into the training grounds at night and that once you did it and injured your ankle?

Well, in reality, when I was at school with the kids from La Masia [Barcelona’s academy], we would go out to play little games; basketball or a bit of everything. In one of those sessions I twisted my ankle and it swelled up. I couldn’t tell the club that I did it at the school so I trained a bit and made it out that I did it there.

How important has Pep Guardiola been to your development?

A lot. Since Guardiola’s arrival, he has made the team play this way. When he arrived he made me play higher up, closer to the goal in order for me to score more goals which, until his arrival, I hadn’t done on a regular basis. He made us prepare better in training and for games, making it seem that every game was a final. He prepares everything with his vision when the games are played and everything he does shows he is the best coach in the world.

How important is he to the club’s success and what makes him such a great coach?

Very important. It’s the way he demands everything from us in every training session and every game. He makes sure we don’t get complacent so that we keep growing as a team.

What’s the most important thing for a new signing for Barcelona to try and understand?

The philosophy of this club and how it plays. How he arrives and adapts to himself in training and games, it’s not easy to do. For us it may have been easier as we have been doing it since we were kids and we’ve been playing in the same style. To adapt to the group is also easy with the type of person that is in the changing room, but it takes time. We know adaptation takes time for any player when they arrive anywhere new.

What’s it like training with Xavi and Andres Lujan Iniesta? Do you try and get on the same team as them in training?

The teams are sorted out by the coach or the assistant coach. But it’s a marvel to watch those guys train, not just because they are in my team but because of the type of player they are and the things that they not only do in training but also in games. To be honest, it is just a pleasure to watch them play.

Do you think the current Barcelona side is the best to have ever played the game?

I didn’t see the other great teams that people say have existed throughout history. Because of my age, I wasn’t old enough to have seen the great teams that we are compared with. From what I have seen I think it is the best, but I can’t really compare [older great teams] as I don’t know enough about the others.

How about you, you’ve scored 50 goals already this season. The other night you only scored two… are you worried about your dip in form?

I’m happy with my current run of form and with the amount of goals that I have been able to score but, as I always say, the most important thing is for the team to continue this dynamism and this way of playing the game to win titles. That, in the end, is the most important thing.

English fans love you because you play the game in what we see as the right way. You don’t dive, you don’t cheat, you get kicked. Is that something from inside you try to do?

Ever since I was a kid I always tried to do that, play and never stop going forward and now I still do the same. To keep trying to go forward and on occasions when I can keep running I make sure I do that.

And I take it having two older brothers probably helped?

Nah, I’ve always had a great relationship with my two brothers, I have always had their support in my football and in everything. They’ve been very close to me and we have a great relationship.

Do you follow the English Premier League?

Yeah I watch it; it’s a league I like. I have friends that are playing there and I follow it as and when I can. Players I like are Kun Aguero and Rooney.These are two players that I like.

Recently Wayne Rooney said on Twitter that you’re the greatest ever. That must have been nice?

The truth is that it was incredible for Rooney to say those things about me, but not just Rooney; many other players in the profession put things in respect of the game where I scored five goals. In truth I am very thankful and it makes me very happy for colleagues to say words of support, especially when they come from players of Rooney’s class.

Would you ever consider playing in England further down the line?

The truth is my idea has been to always stay at Barcelona and see out the rest of my career here. Like I always say, one doesn’t know what can happen in the future, but if it were up to me to decide, I would stay at Barcelona for the rest of my career.

You’ve scored so many goals, but if you had to choose one what is your favourite?

The truth is that I don’t have a favourite goal. I remember important goals more than I do favourite goals, like goals in the Champions League where I had the opportunity to have scored in both finals I have played in. Finals in the World Cup or Copa del Reyare the ones that have stayed with me for longer or that I remember more.

Lionel Messi was speaking at the launch of EA SPORTS’ FIFA Street, out now.

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