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Lionel Messi on His Sport

TIME’s Bobby Ghosh interviews soccer great Lionel Messi.

February 23, 2012
INA FASSBENDER—REUTERS

Barcelona striker Lionel Messi (center) controls for the ball under pressure from the Leverkusen players during a Champions League match at the BayArena, in Leverkusen, Germany, on February 14.

TIME’s Bobby Ghosh sat down for an interview with soccer great Lionel Messi. Off the field, Messi lives a quiet life, with his father in a Barcelona suburb. Here, the naturally reserved Messi offers some insights into his sport and life.

TIME:

You have a low-key lifestyle. Why is that?

LIONEL MESSI:

I’ve always been this way, ever since I was young. I’ve always really just liked football, and I’ve always devoted a lot of time to it. When I was a kid, my friends would call me to go out with them, but I would stay home because I had practice the next day. I like going out, but you have to know when you can and when you can’t. That's why I say nothing's changed since I was young. My friends would go out and I’d stay home. But not for nothing, because I knew it had to be that way, and at that moment, I was dedicated to football.

TIME:

What were your first experiences at Barcelona's famous La Masía training school like?

MESSI:

It helped me a lot because I came [from Argentina] alone, and I was with all the guys in the Masía, I was one of them. We were all from someplace else, and we helped each other. The truth is that there were a lot of happy moments because we were there together for a lot of time, and the relationships between all of us got stronger and stronger. Lots of happy times.

TIME:

When Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo scores in a game, do you feel pressure to do likewise?

MESSI:

No. I care about how Madrid’s doing because they’re competing against us, and they’re in our League, and because almost every year, we compete for the title. But against Ronaldo, no.

TIME:

You seem to be very competitive, how do you feel when you lose?

MESSI:

I am competitive and I feel bad when we lose. You can see it in me when we’ve lost. I’m in a bad way. I don’t like to talk to anyone. I just retreat into myself and go over the game in my head: the things that went wrong, what I did wrong, why we didn’t win.

TIME:

How long do you brood?

MESSI:

Until the next game. Luckily we play a lot, so it happens quickly.

TIME:

Does playing for Argentina in the World Cup bring a different kind of pressure?

MESSI:

No, we feel pressure with every match: not just me, but anyone who’s on a national team. What I can say that I learned [in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa] is that the most important thing is that the team be strong, that they be united. That’s what’s important in a tournament that is so short.

TIME:

How did you feel when fellow Argentines criticized you for your performances with the national team in the last World Cup?

MESSI:

Yes, yes, it hurt; it bothered me. Because they said things that weren’t true—that I didn’t care as much about wearing the [Argentine] shirt. I didn’t feel that, I didn’t think that. And now, I think what people there understand that this is a team game, and that I try to play the same way there as I do in Barcelona, and always do the best I can.

TIME:

Your countrymen are finally warming to you. Why do you think that is?

MESSI:

You see it in the affection that people there have, for what they say on television. Before, there was a lot of criticism and everything was bad. And now it’s not like that. That’s good, because every country I go to, people have always received me very well, and in my own country that wasn't happening.

TIME:

What do you think of the reception you get from fans around the world?

MESSI:

Incredible. It’s happened in a lot of countries I’ve visited, but it’s still surprising. I never imagined that so far from Spain or Argentina, people would have this affection for me. It makes me very happy.


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