Lionel Andres Messi is recognised as the best player of his generation, a footballing icon and a global brand, yet so little is known about the Argentinian.
Spanish football expert and Sky Sports pundit Guillem Balague offers a unique insight into the enigma, in his new book simply entitled ‘Messi’.
Balague was granted unprecedented access into Messi’s world, including teammates, former coaches and those who know him best of all; his family.
“The challenge was to open doors, explain who he was, what motivated him and when you start digging you realise how much he has gone through.”
Despite what people may think, Messi didn’t come into existence when Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard gave him his league debut in 2004 against Espanyol.
Messi has had obstacles put in front of him since he first dribbled a ball at age four and he has made countless sacrifices on his journey to the summit of world football.
“The fact is not just he but every player has to make huge sacrifices; his family split up six months after arriving in Barcelona.”
They struggled to adapt to Catalonia, they felt alienated from the culture so they returned to Rosario leaving Leo and his father/manager Jorge.
“Even though I knew so many players, hearing it from Leo and his family makes you realise that he is a success against all the odds.”
Messi was missing a hormone that allowed him to grow naturally, which meant that he was always extremely small for his age.
His hometown club Newell’s Old Boys refused to pay the $1500 a month needed for the hormone treatment, despite the obvious talent Messi possessed.
When he first arrived in Barcelona nobody at the club knew how to deal with this 12 year old kid from Argentina because this had never happened before.
Balague said: “If you overcome all that you will make it but it doesn’t take you to the top, the book explains how you get there in 10 points and he has them all.”
A huge theme in the book is the relationship that formed between Ronaldinho, then the best player in the world and a 17 year-old Leo Messi joining the first team.
Slowly Ronaldinho’s performance level and love of the game declined, especially after the 2006 World Cup and Messi became the focal point of the team.
“Everyone who talks about the Ronaldinho/Messi era, told me there is only one ball and it has to be had by one of the two.”
The idea that history will repeat itself with Messi now at the peak of his powers and a young talented Brazilian by the name ‘Neymar’ intrigues many.
Balague is still unsure: “We don’t know the answer yet but clearly he (Neymar) has been a source of stress.
Messi is used to being the main man, but now this guy arrives who is intelligent and showers him with admiration but is a threat to him within the team.”
A great deal could be decided by this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Messi could return victorious and would end the discussion over ‘the greatest of all-time’.
On the other hand, imagine Neymar returns having won the one trophy that eludes Messi and at the age of 21 no less. It is going to be an entertaining summer.
During Pep Guardiola’s reign Messi seemed invincible and unstoppable. Over four years there were 219 official appearances, 211 goals and virtually no injuries.
However, we are beginning to see deficiencies. Another injury setback against Real Betis in November ruled him out for up to eight weeks.
It is the eighth time he has suffered a femoral bicep tear, which is the section of the hamstring specific to acceleration, one of Messi’s main weapons.
“I think his body will send a message, but muscle injuries do not happen by chance; something has gone wrong.
That injury in the femoral bicep, 40% of players have it, he will have to change his game no doubt but I think he will come back strong.”