Barcelona's pint-sized magician Lionel Messi speaks exclusively to FourFourTwo in October 2011.
Well, 2010/11 was some season for Barcelona, Leo. Talk us through it...
I am really happy with the season we had. To win the Champions League after winning the Spanish Supercup and La Liga was amazing.
How does it feel to play in a team that seems invincible at times, and plays with a style that’s the envy of the whole world?
It’s a privilege and an honour. It’s very flattering, and it fills us with pride that teams hold a mirror up to Barça’s style of play.
You and the team drew particular praise after last season’s Champions League final. How surprised were you with how convincingly you managed to beat a top side like Manchester United?
The match against Manchester United was not as easy as you maybe are thinking. England is a country with a very important football culture and football passion, so the quality of the players is always high. Manchester is a team who also likes to play offensive football and they have players with very good skills. We could control most of the game and it had a very happy ending, but it was not easy.
Still, it must have been nice to score what turned out to be the winning goal?
Every goal is special, but I would say that goal at Wembley was my personal favourite from those I scored last season, because it took us closer to the fourth Champions League in the history of Barcelona.
Many of the current team came through Barcelona’s famed youth system, La Masia. How important is that continuity to the team’s success?
La Masia has worked for many years with the same system and philosophy, and has bet on young talent; that’s the reason it makes it easier to exchange passes with fabulous players like Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta. It’s also very important to be friends because we spend a lot of time together – sometimes more time than with our families! That friendship makes interaction during matches and training sessions easier.
After a season that was almost perfect, how do you get yourself up for the next season? How important is Pep Guardiola in this?
Well, we didn’t win the Copa del Rey! The team is just as motivated as last season. We don’t need help to motivate us because we have the same belief or higher to keep winning championships. There is nothing more beautiful in football than winning titles with your team. Guardiola and all the staff make things easier for all of us, but we don’t need help to motivate us because we have the same desire to keep winning titles.
With Barcelona, though, there must be that sense of wanting to make history – becoming the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles, for example?
To be the first team to win two consecutive Champions Leagues would be a fantastic and historic thing for the club. Our motivation is to make history with Barça, and if we keep working day by day with the same desire and togetherness, and if injuries and luck are kind to us, anything is possible.
And what about your own game? How can you possibly improve on last season, when you scored 53 goals in 55 games?!
You can always improve some aspects, because to be 100% perfect is almost impossible, but the most important thing is that the team wins. If I’m lucky enough to score on top of that, all the better, but I’m not obsessed with scoring a lot of goals. If we carry on winning titles, scoring 53 goals is secondary.
What do you do to make sure you retain that hunger to carry on winning and carry on scoring?
My only motivation is to wake up every day happy, because you are having fun managing your professional obligations and your personal life. My first thought is having fun. I consider that a good way to reach my objectives – winning titles with my team.
And how do you go about managing those obligations when there’s so much pressure on you and interest in you?
I try not to change my own lifestyle, and keep relationships with my friends and family independent from my football career. I’m just a normal guy who happens to play football for a living.
You come in for some very special treatment on the pitch sometimes, though. How do you manage to keep your cool when you keep getting fouled? And do you ever worry about getting injured?
Football’s a contact sport and opponents try to defend themselves in the best way they can. What I hate most about football is violence, so I try to stick to just playing football, which is the main reason why people come and watch us. I don’t think about getting injured, nor do I want to think about it.
Finally, you’ve turned from footballer to fashionista with Dolce & Gabbana. We’re not used to seeing you like this. How did it feel to get suited and booted by one of the world’s most famous designer labels?
I prefer playing football, but I like good clothes, so I’m lucky. The most important thing is to feel comfortable in what you wear and Dolce & Gabbana make me feel comfortable, and I like the look.
Did you get any tips from any of your team-mates before the shoot?
All my team-mates are good dressers, but Gerard Pique has done a lot of fashion shoots – he’s a very fashionable man!
Interview: Andy Mitten. From the October 2011 issue of FourFourTwo. To see more Leo in Dolce & Gabbana, visit dolcegabbana.com/leo-messi