Messi: I don’t know if Cristiano Ronaldo and I can ever be friends
After equalling Cristiano Ronaldo’s haul of four Golden Shoe awards, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi suggested that he didn’t think he could ever be friends with the Real Madrid striker.
A feature of recent Ballon d’Or and FIFA ‘The Best’ galas has been the seemingly warm way in which the pair have greeted each other, but the truth is that’s the only time their paths tend to cross.
MARCA sat down with La Pulga for an exclusive chat.
What remains of that child who arrived in Barcelona, aged 13 and full of enthusiasm?
“My dreams and desires remain the same. Obviously, a lot of time has passed since then and many things have happened, both on and off the pitch.”
How has your family life changed, with the stability of your relationship with Antonella Roccuzzo and the birth of your children?
“It’s a very big change in every respect. You start to see different things and in a different way. The truth is that being a father is the most beautiful thing that’s happened to me in all my life. We have two children and are waiting for another; the first was an incredible feeling, the second the same and so will be the third.”
How is day to day life with your children? The other day we saw a photo of you reading a story with Thiago.
“My day to day life is very much based around the kids. In the morning I take them to school and when I come back from training I practically leave straight away to pick up Thiago. When he finishes school, we try to spend time together with Antonella and Mateo until dinner. We put them to bed and then not much else, spending time amongst ourselves to pass the time. Everything that a normal family does.”
Do they ask to play football with you at home?
“They don’t tend to ask me to play football with them, sometimes they do, even Mateo who is the youngest. Thiago is already going to training, but they don’t often ask me to play.”
And when you throw the ball to Mateo, he throws it back with his right or left hand?
“Right, they’re both right handed.”
When you get home do you talk football with Antonella and the kids or are you able to leave that at the door and disconnect completely?
“We talk very little about football at home, something very big has to happen at the club or in the national team for it to be a subject at home.”
What do your children ask you? Do they understand who Lionel Messi is?
“Obviously Mateo doesn’t yet, he finds it strange when someone comes and asks for a photo or an autograph. He doesn’t understand. Thiago is starting to understand, more or less but not quite. He likes to go to the stadium and watch games, but he doesn’t fully understand. Sometimes at home he sees me and calls me Messi like the fans do, he doesn’t quite understand.”
What will you do in the future? Will you be a coach or do you see yourself living quietly and playing golf?
“I don’t know what I’ll do. We’ve spoken several times as a family about how I’ll occupy my time once my football career is over, but it’s not something that is settled. I always said that I don’t see myself as a coach, I don’t have a feeling for it. In a few years, that may change but I still have several years left and then we’ll see. When the end is near, something will be done.”
A colleague of yours told me that you’re naturally quite hefty, is it more the case that you focus on physical workouts or on your diet?
“It’s nothing special, I have taken care of my diet for years. After training I strengthen my legs but I’m not really one for the gym.”
Do you like to cook?
“No, I never really have. I would be able to make something, but I wouldn’t market it.”
Tell us something that you’ve cut out your diet that you really liked?
“That would be chocolate, that’s the most difficult thing for me. Even now, from time to time, I sin with chocolate.”
Is taking a siesta still important in your routine?
“No, not anymore. The truth is that I miss it. When I’m with the national team, that’s the only chance I take to nap. Now I don’t have time, because of the kids.”
Do you get to watch many matches?
“Yes, I like to. I still follow football a lot.”
Do you follow any particular competition?
“I watch everything in general, obviously the leagues in Spain, England and Argentina, although my schedule has an impact on that. I follow a little bit of everything.”
Ligue 1 too?
“Yeah, a little more now than before.”
Is it easy to be Lionel Messi?
“I’m a normal person who tries to have a family life. Yes, it’s true that I’d like to go unnoticed and have a normal life without everyone watching me from time to time.”
You now have four Golden Boots, what do you think when you see those trophies?
“It’s a beautiful way of recognising what it represents, but I’ve always said my priority was never individual awards. I would prefer to win another Champions League or LaLiga, they are my priorities. But it’s beautiful to have these at home because of the meaning they have.”
Are Manchester City the team to beat this year?
“City are one of the strongest teams at the moment, along with PSG. They’ve been the two strongest teams up to this point, but it’s a very long season. I never dismiss Real Madrid for what they have and their experience, even though now they aren’t getting the results people expect. Bayern Munich, too. They’re another big team that will be there at the end of the season, but it’s true that, today, City and PSG are the best.”
Is Samuel Umtiti as scary as he seems in training or is he more quiet?
“Umtiti trains how he plays, he holds nothing back. Never, neither in games nor training. Off the field he’s an excellent person.”
Have you been surprised by the Frenchman’s performances?
“I honestly didn’t know much about him when he arrived. Watching him train, it doesn’t surprise me what he does in games. I see all his qualities and it no longer surprises me when he does it for real.”
Why are Barcelona beating defensive records this season, rather than attacking records?
“Neymar’s departure has caused the way we play to change. We lost a great deal of offensive potential but it favoured us in a defensive sense. Currently we are most well-armed in the middle of the field, we have more balance and that makes us stronger defensively.”
How do you explain the difficulties Argentina have had in qualifying for the World Cup, and what do you have to do to ensure you will be competitive enough to try and win the tournament?
“It was a tough period for us, we went through three coaches and it’s not easy to adapt to each of them. They all have their own footballing philosophy and ideas. Recently it’s been Jorge Sampaoli and we’ve only played four qualifiers and some friendlies so we will continue on that growth process. Beyond that, the qualifiers were very tough in themselves. Every day, football becomes more even and it’s difficult to qualify.”
In 2014, you lost the final to Germany. Will Germany again be the favourite in 2018 or do you see other countries, such as Spain or Portugal, challenging?
“Germany will be one of the favourites, as they always are. There are other teams that are also great candidates; Brazil, Spain, France. They are stronger now and reach the World Cup in good form.”
You played the Netherlands in the semi-final in Brazil, are you surprised that a great player like Arjen Robben isn’t at the next World Cup?
“It’s a bit like what I said before, the difficulties every team faces in qualifying, either in South America or Europe. Today, football is very close and any small nation that is well organised can make life complicated. The Netherlands are missing out, as are Italy, teams that have participated in World Cups for decades and nobody expected to fail to qualify.”
Many fans in Turkey criticise Arda Turan, what’s your opinion on him as a player?
“Arda has a lot of quality, he’s an extraordinary player. He had the bad luck of not having the confidence or consistency that any player needs to perform well in a team. He came from Atletico Madrid, where he played in a different position to here. It’s not the same to play every now and then compared to playing every weekend, it’s much more difficult. When he’s played and had continuity in the team, he’s done very well.”
What do you think about Italy’s elimination from the World Cup? Do you think Italian football is losing its prominent position in European football?
“It’s true that Italian football is not the same as in recent years, that’s the reality. I don’t think it has anything to do with not qualifying for the World Cup. Calcio’s great powers such as AC Milan and Inter aren’t the same as they were ten years ago, and that’s been felt all across Italian football. Little by little, they are trying to get back on track. Above all, these two teams need to be strong again at a European level.”
What do you make of the crisis at Real Madrid?
“It’s only temporary. It’s not the first time that we’ve seen a situation like that of Real Madrid in a top league. In the end, they will be back fighting for everything because of the team they have, because of the players they have and because they have always been like that.”
Is Cristiano Ronaldo your great rival for the Ballon d’Or or do you think any other players have a chance?
“There are many great players around today who can win the Ballon d’Or. In recent years there have just been two, but now players like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Luis Suarez can compete for that award.”
Cristiano said some time ago that, in the future, you two could be good friends. Do you think that’s possible?
“I don’t know if we will be. Friendship is built through spending time together and getting to know eachother. We have no relationship, mainly because we only see eachother at awards ceremonies and that’s the only time we speak. Everything is fine, but our lives don’t cross over very often.”