Sky Sports pundit Guillem Balagué returns with a book about a true footballing superstar. With the authorisation of the family, Guillem takes you into the world of Lionel Messi. We spoke with Guillem to tell us about his new book: 'Messi' and his tour of the country. Here is the first part:
Q. How did the book first come about?
A. Well, after the Pep Guardiola book, Orion (publishers) said: "What do you want to do next?" and the answer was "relax, rest, travel and see friends." They said: "no, no, do you want to do another book" and I said: "there's only really one that needs doing in a way and that is Messi." I said the same as when I did the Pep book, unless I can talk to them - and this is a very small world and very inclosed family - there's no point in doing it. So, I approached the family and I said: "I think in the international world, outside Spain and Argentina, people only really know one or two things about Messi? And, I would like to fill that void that gap." They listened and I started working, travelling to Argentina, all over Europe, to Barcelona and the more work I put into it, the more they offered to help. It's just been fantastic, they opened up and allowed me to try to analyse what motivates him, what kind of suffering they went through (all of them) and what you need to do to go to the top. It's been a very, very demanding, but rewarding experience.
Q. Did you speak with Lionel Messi for the book and how did his family react to you, when you visited Rosario?
A. The idea was to do analogies of social, physiological and football wise of what makes Messi. I've met him many times and I knew I couldn't get anything through him. The Italian journalists say: "he dribbles in the interviews, as much as he dribbles on the pitch." So then I thought what would be the best way to analyse him, that's why I said I needed to talk with the family. They opened up and understood what I was trying to do. It worked very well because you go with an idea of what he is like and what makes him. A lot of stories that have been repeated by a lot of people and then realise that a lot of the stories are a myth. A lot of the stories are false and then you have to start from scratch. You can only really do that with their help, they were immense and I'm really grateful for that.
Q. Did you almost have to forget what you had already learnt on Messi and as you say: "start from scratch?"
A. Good question because in a way yes. That's what you end up doing. I've done 20 years in this world and as many people say: "football is a lie." Which is funny because it's something I used to say to Rafa Benitez about ten years ago and now he is repeating it. There's a side of football people see and a side of football that people don't see. I'm lucky that I have a foot in both sides, if you like. Nothing is a massive surprise, but certainly there is a mystery and an enigma about Messi. People interpret things from a very superficial way, if he has a go at a player on the pitch, they call him a 'dictator.' Actually, if you start exploring his mentality, you realise all his life, he has been the player that wins you games. So, he has been treated differently from the age of ten, someone like that develops a very complex mentality. Trying to understand that is perhaps the hardest part of the book and trying to understand what kind of relationships he develops with his teammates, with coaches and his dad; who is also his agent. That's the fascinating thing for me and how many sacrifices he had to make to get to the top. So many that when I have a kid I will make sure he is not a footballer.
Q. Even your most casual football fan knows who Lionel Messi is, did that add greater expectation when writing the book and are you a little bit apprehensive with how it will be received?
A. I'm only apprehensive because you just don't know how people will receive it. I know there is so much that has been said about Messi, which is false. People think they know him, but they don't. I'm pleased that I'm going to surprise many and then if people enjoy it or not, it's a different matter. I'm taking everybody for a ride; I'm going to Argentina, I'm going to Spain, I'm going deep into his head, I'm going to into his technique, I'm going into what makes an elite player. Why Argentina don't like him and why he was thinking of leaving the national team. I answer many questions I hope.
Q. What surprised you the most when writing the book?
A. Just the amount of sacrifices footballers have to make of any level. Messi and Ronaldo are the success stories, they are 1%, if that, of the people who get into that world. I mention a lot of people who were at certain times as good as Messi or conceded as good as Messi, but fell off the edge. You have to think of those because you're asking a kid of 12 years-old to become a professional then at 17 sometimes they realise they can't, those five years are almost wasted. You get away from your friends, your mentality changes, your body changes, there are so many things that you have to do. Then, you look at Messi and say: "ha, but he succeeded." But if he hadn't, would he be where he wanted to be. It's not just about Messi, it's about the difficulties and obstacles that you face and sacrifices you make when getting to the top.
LaLigaUK would like to thank Guillem for giving us this exclusive interview, the second part will appear tomorrow.