In his home town of Arroyo Seco, just outside of Rosario, Lionel Messi sat down to talk to Carlos Carpanto and Jorge Lopez of Argentine daily Ole. Looking at a February comeback, the 19 year old touches on Germany '06, his preferred position, and Alfio Basile's national team squad.
Here is a rough translation of the interview that ran yesterday:
Where are the crutches, have you already gotten rid of them?
One's in the car, the other, I don't know. I don't want to see them ever again...
Did you get a chance to catch the last stretch of the Apertura? Any thoughts on what Estudiantes [de La Plata] did?
I saw the final, it was a pretty emotional end to the season.
Do you follow Argentine soccer?
In truth, not really. They show the games in Spain, but at a late hour that makes it a little tough to stay up and watch them on a regular basis.
Of what you've seen, are there any players that have caught your eye?
Caught my eye, no because I already know all about him... I think [Rodrigo] Palacio is a different kind of player. He's accomplished a lot of great things at Boca [Juniors]...
Reports out of Spain say that Barcelona are keen to make him your teammate in the near future...
Yeah, I heard about that. It's always great to have a countryman as a teammate. I'd love for it to happen.
Looking past the injuries, 2006 was also the year of your first World Cup. What is your take on what happened in Germany?
It was all positive, other than the fact that the team didn't get to where we wanted to go, or what our game deserved. But I go away with the memories of playing in a World Cup. After that, there's been a lot said...
There was a lot of talk concerning your relationship with your teammates...
I know that what's been said isn't true, and my teammates know it as well. That puts me at ease.
What was the team spirit like?
It was a great group. What happens is that I kind of like to keep to myself sometimes, I'm not one to speak up or say much and that's where people from the press got the story all wrong...but it was never because I had a problem with anyone.
Were you surprised to read that some thought, that because of the look on your face while you were on the bench in Germany, that the loss didn't mean anything to you, that you could have cared less?
I don't really care or pay attention to that kind of stuff. The picture that ran with those articles was a snapshot of one moment in time. The truth is that I was mad because I wanted to play, I wanted to get in there and help. But I wasn't angry at [Jose] Pekerman for not putting me in. Afterwards, everyone was talking about how I was happy the team lost...but like el Raton [Roberto Ayala] said, I was one of the guys who cried the most.
Leo, you're at Barca, there are a lot of lads abroad, el Kun [Sergio Aguero] is doing well, [Real] Madrid just bought [Fernando] Gago and [Gonzalo] Higuain...we have players. Why is it so hard for the national team to bring home a trophy?
I thought that the team that was put together for the last World Cup was in a position to win. I'm not really sure what happened, looking back, I'm still trying to figure it out. Against Germany, we were on the verge of winning until what happened with Pato [Roberto Abbondanzieri]. Leo Franco, whose always been a great shot stopper, didn't have that little bit of luck you need during a penalty shootout. There's a new era that's been launched, with lots of friendlies, with the Copa America on the horizon, with lots of youngsters...
Do you think that the public and the press need to calm down a bit?
Yeah, I think so. We've just gotten started and though the losses hurt, I think that the criticism has been a little harsh, it doesn't really help anyone. It has all been a bit fast with the hiring of the coach so close to when we played against Brazil, there hasn't been enough time to work out the kinks. You can't do much in three days...
That's always the response, and it's very true. What's it like having so few training sessions with your teammates?
First of all, it's not just two or three guys you don't get to play with day-in day-out, it's all 22 who you maybe get to see once a month. I think that if you give this team a couple of weeks to work together, you'll see a totally different side.
What are you missing when you all get together?
Mostly your movements and the movements of others...when you play with someone everyday, you know when they'll make a run, who needs the ball on their right foot, everything. Also, it takes a while to adapt to the coach's system. Everyone comes to the national team having playing a certain way with their club team.
How are things with Basile?
To tell you the truth, I haven't spoken to him one-on-one very much. What he said at the last get-together was great though, he gave us a great talk that really inspired us. It was a really good time, the atmosphere was great, no problems. There's always the chance that you get there and say: "I want to get the fuck out of here, I can't wait until this game is over." But right now, I'm very comfortable with everything, I feel good about it.
Where do you feel most comfortable playing? At the point, like against Holland?
No, I feel that my best position is just behind the forwards. In the Barcelona youth teams, we played with one central striker, two wide players, and one player just behind, where I played. I had the whole pitch to play in and with three teammates to play the ball to going forward, I felt a lot of freedom playing in that system. Then on the senior team, things are a little different. But if I had to choose, I'd play just behind the front three.
Is it hard to duplicate your club form at the international level?
When I get back to playing, I'm going to try to relax a bit and not try too hard. I feel that el Coco [Basile] has the confidence in me and will give me the freedom...for that reason I'd like to calm down a bit. Maybe I've been trying to do too much when I play for Argentina.
Are you motivated by the upcoming Copa America in Venezuela?
Yes, very much...everything that involves the national team, to play for Argentina, and to win trophies motivates me. I hope to play for the national team by then, because I didn't get to play the way I would have liked against Brazil and Spain. I played rather poorly.
The word is that you'll be back on the field next month. Is it crazy to think that you might get a couple of minutes in the February 2nd friendly against France?
It's possible. I'll return to full training on the 1st of the month, but I'll have been out of soccer for three months. Either way, I'd like to be in Paris. Even if I don't get to play, I can at least get together with the group and do some running with them.
Lionel Messi Interview (In Spanish) [Ole]