Birth of Thiago
My life has changed massively since Thiago’s birth, of course it has. He’s now the most important thing in my life. It’s been a challenge like any other. Your first thought must always be for your son. It’s been a fantastic experience, though.
He’s the best present anyone could wish for in their life, without a shadow of doubt. Is he conscious of who his dad is and what he does? No, not really. He’s not really aware of anything, he’s only two years old!
In the last couple of months he’s started learning how to talk and communicate with us better – he understands when we talk to him – which is fantastic. But in terms of what I do, and I suppose who I am, no, he doesn’t understand that.
As I say, he’s two, so he doesn’t think in that way. [My partner] Antonella has told me that he recognises me when I’m on the TV, though, which is nice.
On the way to training
When I’m in the car on the way to training, I always drive as calmly as possible. I enjoy the drive, actually. It’s nice to have that bit of time before training to relax, alone with my thoughts. It’s the same before a game. I always go the same route, too, because it helps me concentrate.
People even recognise me when I’m en route. Most of the time I think they recognise the car, but there have been a couple of times when someone’s crossing the street, or waiting at a red light next to me, and they glance over and look really surprised, like, “oh, it’s you!” It’s quite funny.
We all arrive an hour before training starts. We all have breakfast together when we arrive, then everyone goes about their own business before the football starts. Some will go into the gym for half an hour to prepare themselves, others will see the physio for a stretch, especially if they have a small injury complaint.
There’s a group of us who have mate together [a traditional South American tea, high in caffeine] before training starts. Sometimes I’ll go for a wander around the training ground or sit in the dressing room.
It all depends on each day, really, but the mate and having a chat with my team-mates I’ll do every day. It’s not necessarily about wanting a routine, it’s just what we do. We arrive, have a drink and a chat. There isn’t a reason why, it’s just what we’ve always done.
Everyone’s got their own style. Everybody’s different. I think I’m just normal, jeans and T-shirt. We all get on very well in the dressing room. I’ve always been close with Dani Alves, since we shared the right wing together when I first broke into the Barcelona first-team.
We’ve spent many years together, both on and off the field. Day-to-day, we’ve got a very strong relationship, which is also of a great help on the field; it means we understand each other’s games very well.
As a squad we try to do things socially. It varies, because everybody has their own time away from the pitch to spend with their family. We all have different obligations, many of us have children who we pick up from school or go to bed early – anything to do with your children always takes time. When we can, we get together, but everyone has their own life.
Pique, Iniesta, Cesc and la Masia
I wouldn’t say it’s all that important to people you’ve known for a long time in the team with you, but it’s certainly a beautiful feeling to have shared such great moments with some great friends. People like Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique. Is Pique as much of a joker as people say? [Laughs] He has his moments, but as soon as it comes to football, he becomes serious again. Everybody talks about Pique being the dressing room joker, but I can tell you that’s not the case. When it’s time for football, two words come to mind: serious and work.
Mental preparation for a game
I start preparing for a game, much like the rest of the squad, after the previous match finishes. We talk about what we did well and what we can improve. We play a lot of games in a very short space of time, so I think it’s important to always look forwards and never backwards in football.
Before a game, my preparation is similar to how I am at training. I don’t have any sort of ritual, or anything like that, I just put on whatever item of clothing is nearest to me. I’m not the sort of guy who goes around shouting and screaming in the dressing room before a game, either. I prefer to stay calm, be with my own thoughts and think about some of the situations that I’m likely to face in the upcoming game.
I like to imagine things, like the opposition defenders and what might happen. Obviously, in your imagination everything always turns out for the best. It’s not often like that in a game, but I find it very useful to visualise what might happen.
Some people say my style of play is innate, but I’m not sure if that’s me or not. Honestly, I do play on instinct. On the pitch, I’m always looking for the best move or decision at any given time. I never want to do what the opposition would be expecting.
Relaxation after a game
After training I usually go home to spend time with my family, son and the people closest to me. That’s just me, really. I don’t play other sports, I enjoy following them on TV, but that’s about it.
Sometimes I play FIFA on the PlayStation against my Barcelona or Argentina team-mates, which is always good fun. I wouldn’t say I’m the king, though, there are a few who are pretty good.
By the evening, the time I go to sleep varies. If it’s been a busy day with a heavy training session and I feel tired, then it’ll be earlier. But as a general rule, me, my other half and the little one don’t have a definite time to go to sleep. I find it easiest to drift off with the TV on in the background. That noise helps me relax.
Contesting the Clasico
The Clasico is obviously a special game. It’s important for what it means to everyone involved, from the players to the fans. It’s an event all around the world. As a player, though, you have to treat it like any other game. Like any derby, there’s something extra to the game. They’re amazing to play in and it’s a fixture I’ve been very lucky to score a lot of goals in [Messi has scored more Clasico goals than anyone else].
I think on the international stage, Brazil vs Argentina is similar to Real Madrid vs Barça. Both matches involve big teams who have a great rivalry, the main difference being that for the former it’s all about the countries, while Barcelona isn’t just about the city, but the fans from afar who have feelings for the club.
Dealing with pressure
Pressure in football is an interesting topic. Personally, I try to help myself as best I can. I’m always looking to remain as calm and relaxed as possible when I go onto the pitch. When I feel the grass beneath my feat I feel sure, because playing football is what I enjoy most. Is that pressure a blessing or curse? I don’t know.
I try to use pressure to help me in every game. Pressure helps me do things to the best of my ability. I like it. I don’t feel pressure; quite the contrary, because I always enjoy what I’m doing and that’s playing football.
One of the questions that people most often ask me is whether it’s possible to live a normal life. I honestly think I do. I try to do everything I want and I think I manage it. The Barcelona people are very respectful. People ask you for photos and autographs, of course, but I still think I live normally. If I wanted to, I could walk down a street without being followed. I don’t often go out for a walk, but that’s purely because I prefer being at home with my family. If I wanted to go for a walk, I could do so.
There isn’t too much press intrusion into my private life, either. They don’t stick their nose in the business of my family life. In that sense, I don’t have a problem with them.
I’m used to there being a lot of people being around for photoshoots and videos, as well as all the football. I can see all the preparation that goes into it. It just becomes part of normal life. It’s nice to see so many people around and ready to work. Do I like it? It’s what life’s about. There’s no other way.
Proudest football moments
I’m always proudest whenever I’ve been part of trophy-winning team. Lifting a title makes me feel so happy because it’s what I want to do in football: be successful. I find it impossible to single out specific victories, because they all mean so much to me. The Champions League is the best tournament there is, but the enjoyment I feel from winning any trophy is very special.
When I was kid, playing in the streets of Rosario, I’d never have imagined that I’d have reached the level I have and won Ligas, Champions League and other very important titles. I didn’t even imagine that I’d be living in Spain, or playing for a professional club as huge as Barcelona, let alone anything else.
That all seemed a long way away for us as a family, but it’s exactly what’s happened. It’s amazing. I was just thinking about playing football, I just loved the sport. I suppose I thought a bit about becoming a professional, but never for a team like Barcelona.
How does it feel to be called the best ever by the press or my team-mates? Well, first of all, it’s a huge honour and makes me feel very proud. When a fellow professional, and players who I’ve known for a long time, say things like that it’s a wonderful feeling.
They’re a long time ago, now. I’d always played football on the street since I was tiny, and it was great fun. After that, I started playing for a local neighbourhood team when I was about five or six.
Of course, I’ll never forget my Barcelona debut in a friendly at Porto, or my first official game for the club, when I came on for Deco at Espanyol. All these memories remain incredibly vivid in my mind because they're special times in my life and career.
I was very happy to be playing with such big players at such a young age, especially when playing at the Camp Nou. To be honest, I just wanted to stay as calm as possible.
I still remember my first Barcelona trial, too. I was 13 and spent 15 days here. We stayed in a hotel near Plaça Espanya, and it all went very well. My team-mates were very welcoming and it only took a couple of days for me to be able to call them friends. It was a wonderful experience.
Everything that’s happened to me in my career has been special, even the tough times because they leave marks on you that shape your life, but that Barcelona trial was something different. It was fantastic. There are a lot of stories about that time, one being the napkin that Charly Rexach, one of the scouts, wrote a declaration that Barcelona would sign me. I’ve heard that story a lot but I’ve never seen napkin myself, so I couldn’t tell you whether that’s true or not!
Day to day motivation
Day-to-day motivation isn’t a problem for me. I won’t to go back and repeat everything I’ve lived and experienced. I’m not just talking about on a personal level, by winning important trophies, but within the team environment, as well. Training with my team-mates and improving every day.
I don’t have objectives to score goals and break records, though they’re nice things to achieve. My goals are to win trophies and achieve everything that we possibly can with this team. That’s what we think about.
Lionel Messi wears the Adidas Messi mirosar10. For more info on Leo's fancy boots head to adidas.com/football or join in on Twitter @TeamMessi.
This interview originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!
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