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 second part:
Q. You spoke with lots of people you know such as Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc, but did you talk to more people who you were less familiar with than the Pep book?
A. Yeah, I went back through all those guys. They give you an impression of him, but I wanted to go back to his first coaches, so I went to Argentina and to players like Víctor Vázquez, who was viewed as good as Messi when at Barcelona B, Barça C and Juvenile. He is at Brugge now, he tore the muscles of his knee and his career has gone in a different way. A lot of people including Cesc, Víctor and a lot of people in Argentina, see their time with Messi as the peak of their lives. Which is a little bit sad because he doesn't see it like that at all. He just sees it as part of the process. It's interesting that Cesc says: "going back to Barcelona, one of the reasons was to be with Messi again." Messi looks back at the times with Cesc and yes they were good times, but he was just making his way to the top. He doesn't see it as the peak of his life or anything like that. It's interesting how Messi and the people around him deal with the same era in completely different ways.
Q. When we last spoke, you described this project "as big if not bigger" than the Pep book, is it turning out that way?
A. It's been bigger because the hole that you have to look at him through is much smaller at first. Pep Guardiola, I knew him as a player, I had been close to his development as a coach and of course I had to convince him to talk to me. It was difficult, but I had a longer period. With Messi, even though you have the records and he is very visible, to get the insight it's such a small gap. I had less time and if it hadn't been for the help of the family, then I wouldn't be able to come out now and say I have done as good a job as I could. It became a project on how to get close to him, how to find the right people to talk to and how to write it in the short time as well. It was very hard.
Q. How did you go about researching the book and how long did it take to complete?
A. Until February I was with the Pep book because I was completely unhappy with the Spanish translation so I had to do it again. I started straight away in March and went to Argentina, every day there was something to do with it, every day and there still is. So, I may have been in places that changed the outlook of my window, I've been to Greece, Morocco, Spain, everywhere, but I haven't left the hotel, so I need to recover my friends and normal life really. It's just been very demanding and enjoyable.
Q. His relationship with Pep changed towards the end (of Pep's time in Barcelona), why do you think that was?
A. Again, that's one of the fascinating things of this book. I get Pep Guardiola to talk to me again about Messi and then you see that basically everything he did was for Leo. But it got a point at the end, where he moved on and went somewhere else. Messi stayed on and Messi is more worried about the next manager than what happened in the past; that's the kind of mentality that he has got. A key thing in this relationship is Messi has difficulties showing his emotions, he loves Pep, but at the moment he just doesn't know how to say it. There will be a time when they will, but in the meantime there is a distance there, which is maybe surprising for people outside that world, but it happens. For instance, Ronaldinho and Messi were very close at one point and now they aren't in touch. It's how it goes in football.
Q. Even now, does the shy and reserved Messi wonder why you have done a book about him and wonder what all the fuss is about?
A. No, no, Messi is the maximum presentation of his talent that we have ever seen. That can only be fascinating, looking from the outside it is, looking from the inside it completely is. In terms of the fuss, we make gods out of humans, we like to think that these people have god given talent. I don't believe in god given talent and I explain why in detail. I think it's all hard work, the right mentality, the right physique and a number of other things. But we need to believe in gods and for many he is one, once you look closer you see that he is a very talented individual. What he has done with his talent is something we can all learn from. He has gone through pain; physical and mental, he has gone through the difficulty of his family breaking up. He is from an Italian culture, the Messis are Italian originally, where the 'mama' is the centre of their world, imagine when you're 13 your 'mama' disappears, you only see her twice a year. That's what you have to do to be a top player.
Q. When I came to Birmingham to see you, Pako Ayestarán did a superb tactics presentation, what sort if things will your special guests be doing during this tour?
A. I've only booked until Christmas, but there will be more taking place next year. The idea for instance in Liverpool; I have one of the early coaches of Messi in Rodolfo Borrell and a player in Jamie Carragher, who has come from the same kind of sacrifices that I'm talking about and I want to hear from him. Then, in Glasgow we have Gab Marcotti who adds a very intelligent spin and Albert Ferrer who was at Barcelona, he understands what the club is and what they have done for Leo. Then, in Belfast I've got Gerry Armstrong who is the perfect host and Gaizka Mendieta who knows perfectly Barcelona and Leo. Then, in Dublin, I'm doing something different, a smaller place where I went last year. It's just me and two microphones, one for the audience, which will be a conversation with me and the people. Take them verbally into a ride, where Leo kicks a ball for the first time to what he is now and allow people to take the conversation whichever way they want. I'm looking forward to it, last year was amazing that kind of interaction and the people who got involved, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I had a great time and I hope for the same again.
LaLigaUK would like to thank Guillem for giving us this exclusive interview.