A couple of years ago we sat face-to-face with the diminutive superstar and looked into his eyes. FourFourTwo wants to know how he does it: how he scored more goals in 2012 than any top-flight player in the history of the game. How he’s no longer just a great player but a great goalscorer.
So… just how does he do it?
Hello, Lionel. You receive the ball 20 yards from goal. What is your first instinct?
I look for the best option, whether it’s another player or the goal. You should always be aware of everything around you before you get the ball: the position of the defenders, the goalkeeper, the goal… when you get the ball you choose the best option. Sometimes that option is to shoot straight away.
When you score a goal, what goes through your mind as the ball crosses the line?
It’s a beautiful sensation when you score a goal. It’s difficult to explain how it feels, but I get it after every goal, whether it’s for Barça or Argentina. I have had this feeling since I was a child.
What do you hear in your head when you’ve just scored?
My first instinct is to celebrate with my team-mates. That’s the strongest emotion. They are the people who have worked as a team to help me get the goal. Then to celebrate with the fans, the people who have supported the team. How the people celebrate depends on where you are. In Argentina the stadiums are crazy and full of noise, the people are very passionate for football. In Barcelona the stadium is so big, the biggest in the world. When we play away from home, not everyone is delighted to see a Barça goal.
Some players say they can’t remember scoring in the moments afterwards. Does that ever happen to you?
No! I remember, it’s clear. I wouldn’t say that I can remember every single goal I’ve scored, but I don’t forget them easily. And I always remember them when they are fresh in my mind, from the second of the goal. They remain clear for days after. You’re always being reminded of the goals too – in the media, by the other players, the fans, the coaches. It’s good to see the goals again and the happiness they bring.
Who is your goalscoring hero?
Ronaldo. He was my hero. I loved to watch players like Zidane, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, but Ronaldo was the best forward I’ve ever seen. He was so fast that he could score a goal from nothing and he struck the ball better than anyone I’ve seen.
What variables do you take into account before you pull the trigger?
The goal – it’s all about the goal. Where is it? Can I put the ball in it? Where should I put the ball in it? The position of the goalkeeper is important, if you have time to think about that: you don’t want the ball to go near him. It takes longer to talk about it than it does to execute the shot. You have to react instantly otherwise the chance can go.
Do you assess the position of the keeper before shooting or have you already decided where you’re going to put the ball?
It depends on the play. There are moments when you watch the goalkeeper and his position carefully; there are others when the play is so quick that you don’t have time to consider the goalkeeper. Let him worry about you instead. Then it’s about instinct – the position of the goal is more important that the goalkeeper. He can move, the goal doesn’t move.
When you were a kid, did you think you’d be a goalscorer?
I never imagined how my life would turn out – not just as a goalscorer, but in general. I wasn’t a child who thought, ‘When I grow up want to score goals for Barça’ or whoever. I just didn’t think like that. But I’ve enjoyed the sensation of scoring a goal for as long as I can remember.
Do you get more satisfaction from scoring a goal rather than setting one up?
It’s the same, so as long as the team scores. Football is a team game, you should never forget that. A player is nothing without his team-mates. An assist for a goal can be just as satisfying as scoring a goal.
How important is the Pichichi [awarded to the top scorer in La Liga] to you?
I’ve said it many times, but individual awards always come second to what the team wins. It’s nice to be recognised for your individual efforts by people in football, but the success of the team must come first. Winning the Pichichi is great, of course it’s great to score the most goals in the league and to share a trophy won by so many great players, but it’s not the same if your team are not the champions.
What’s your favourite goal scored by someone else, from any point in history?
Maradona against England.
Sorry, you’re not allowed that one.
Ha ha! Obviously I can’t really recall that goal because I was one or something, but I’ve seen it many times on television. It was beautiful, the way he ran past all of those players, and in such an important game too.
What was the most unusual object you used for a goal when you were playing football as a boy?
I used to look for any object that looked like a goal. Anything like a goal was good for me: two trees, two posts in the street, a painting on a wall. I would use these as a goal until I was 13 years old, when I moved to Spain. From that point on I always trained at Barça, using their excellent facilities.
You’ve won everything there is to win in club football. Do you have any ambitions left?
To win in the next match, that’s always my next ambition. It has always been a dream for me to win the World Cup with Argentina, and no matter how many trophies I’ve won with Barça, my ambition is to keep winning more. I take everything step by step, though. Life’s like that, football’s like that. Step by step, game by game.
Are you ever going to leave Barça?
It’s my dream to stay for as long as possible, I’ve always said that. I’m happy here, happy with the city, the club, my team-mates. My family are happy here in Barcelona too, and that’s important to me.
This interview first appeared in the December 2012 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe!
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