‘Messi’: Guillem Balague lifts the lid on Argentina & Barcelona icon

'There are no other books about Lionel Messi that are authorised. That's the first little success of the book,' says Guillem Balague

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Guillem Ballague
Author of "Messi": Guillem Balague Photo: John Quintero

It’s remarkable that so little is known about one of sport’s most recognisable faces, but Guillem Balague’s ‘Messi’ goes into uncharted territory and unearths what makes Lionel Messi the world’s best footballer.

Delving deep into the inner psyche of Barcelona’s genius, ‘Messi’ maps the 26-year-old’s progress from his formative years as a childhood protegee in Rosario to his meteoric rise at Barcelona, before blossoming into an untouchable football icon.

Accompanied by the memories of many who have encountered Messi at various points in his career, the book has unrivalled insights from the Messi family and former Barcelona manager and current Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola – as well as besotted Argentinians who have crossed paths with “The Flea”.

“There are no other books [about Messi] that are authorised,” Balague told The Sport Review.

“Straight away that’s the first little success of the book.”

He added: “It started as a consequence of the Guardiola book. The publishers wanted me to pursue the possibility of doing something else.

“After Pep Guardiola it had to be Lionel Messi.

“If you ask anyone [about him], they can tell you four things… I just wanted to learn more… How could it be that there is so little known about someone so watched and admired?”

‘Messi’ begins in the early stages of the Barcelona forward’s career in Argentina as Jorge Messi battled with Newell’s Old Boys to get the hormone treatment needed to help his son’s growth and development.

In part one, titled “In Rosario”, there are wonderful anecdotes from Leo’s team-mates, coaches and technical directors during those years at Newell’s which brings to life his legacy in his hometown, and the stories are allowed to effortlessly flow thanks to a series of Acts in chapter two.

“There were so many people that told me so many stories that I felt bad for taking it from them… I interviewed them and I felt if you put these guys together over a beer, then you would get the stories. You don’t need to intervene. Just put them in order,” Balague continued.

Remarkably, Barcelona almost allowed Messi to be lured away from Catalunya due to a lack of structure in place to cope with a child protegee from Argentina, and Balague gives us the definitive version of events in his early Barça years and underlines the vital role of former president Juan Laporta.

“It was an experiment and the club wasn’t prepared for it,” he said. “He [Messi] had a direct link to the president.

“It’s the only thing that saved him because he was a completely unique case. They put a shape to it in terms of contract and what kind of progression he was going to make, the president said ‘I’m here’ and the father liked it. Leo felt that he was protected.”

And it was the perfect marriage. Barcelona’s patient and passing style which is drilled into all their La Masia graduates contradicts Messi’s direct style of play. But the result have been devastating.

“Everybody says it was the perfect marriage – but it was. Barcelona realised that they had to let him do his move,” he said.

“All his life he’s been doing the same thing… He gets the ball in the last third, dribbles past everybody and scores. Everybody eventually had to go with it and change the team to allow him to do that.

“He hasn’t progressed through the ranks like anyone else because he’s so good. It means he hasn’t done it the Barcelona way. It’s been done the Messi way.”

Three hundred and twenty-seven Barcelona goals, six La Liga titles, three Champions League crowns and a four-time Ballon d’Or winner – just some of the accolades that the Argentinian has won during his decorated career so far.

With titles and record like that, it’s no surprise that Messi has often been described as a “natural-born genius”, but it’s not that simple. Balague highlights how Leo set his mind to becoming a true footballing great, with a little help from genetics.

“I’ve studied a lot of these guys at the top and I do believe in the 10,000 hours. It is part of what takes you there – but it’s not everything. If you have a ball at three and sleep with it, play with it, you’re going to become very good,” he said.

“You can drive for 10,000 hours but you’re not a Formula 1 driver because you haven’t been focused [on the driving]. You don’t have the other things that take you to the top.

“If there’s anything genetic about him, it’s the size and pace. And that compulsion to continue winning and feeling you’re not good enough – that’s genetic.”

As well as looking at his rise through the ranks at Barcelona, ‘Messi’ explores the Barça star’s fascinating but complicated relationship with his country of birth, which was suffering when he left for Catalunya as a 12-year-old.

How is it that a man of such talent has only recently been welcomed into the hearts of Argentinians? Naturally, Diego Maradona’s legacy plays a part but so does Messi’s choice of career path.

“He’s only been accepted by the Argentinians since 2012 which coincides with the demise of Barcelona,” Balague said.

He added: “If you leave when you’re a kid, people feel you’ve betrayed them. They think, ‘there’s been a crisis but we’ve got the country sorted while you’ve been out there winning money’.”

We also get an insight into the key relationships in Messi’s career which the dynamic between him and his father, who is also his agent, Barcelona mentor Ronaldinho, Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo – and naturally Guardiola.

Having digested 600 pages, ‘Messi’ provides an exhaustive insight into every aspect of his life, creating a fully-rounded picture of the diminutive Argentinian. We get to know the real Messi.

But at 26, there is surely so much more to come. Balague thinks so: “There’ll be one more [chapter] in paperback after the World Cup, so the World Cup is certainly one.

“If he wins it, he doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone else if that was a motivation.”

He continues: “If he doesn’t win it, he’s going to want to prove that he’s the best all the time. So he’s going to demand more from his body. He’s going to be 27 and he’s going to do what he’s always done…”

‘Messi’ by Guillem Balague is available from Orion Books, priced £20 / eBook £10.99

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