Since bursting on to the world scene in 2005, Lionel Messi has just got better and better. Continually in the headlines for his mazy dribbles and superbly taken goals, the diminutive Argentinian has won trophy after trophy with Barcelona. The one accolade he had yet to get his hands on was the FIFA World Player Award, until Monday evening that it is.
Voted into second place in the last two years, Messi has finally earned the unanimous recognition of the world’s players and coaches, capping a year in which he played an integral part in his club’s clean sweep of six trophies. And after taking receipt of the award in Zurich, the ever-humble maestro shared his thoughts with FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: Lionel, it is a case of third time lucky for you at the FIFA World Player Gala. Congratulations. How do you feel about winning the award?
Lionel Messi: I’m just very happy. It’s lovely to get this recognition from colleagues and coaches. That makes it even more important. The fact that I’m the first Argentinian to win it is also a great honour.
Who else do you think would have deserved to win the award?
I think any of the Barcelona players here would have deserved to win it for everything the club has achieved this season.
You have won every single competition with Barcelona this year and you have also picked up most of the individual awards going. How will you look back on 2009?
Everything has been great, very positive. We won everything there was to win as a team and I achieved things on a personal level. Obviously I’m very happy about it all, though none of this would have been possible without my team-mates. This recognition is for them too.
Is there any moment that stands out in particular?
I think I’d have to say the Champions League final against Manchester United. That’s the game I remember most because of what it meant. And because of my goal.
It’s lovely to get this recognition from colleagues and coaches. That makes it even more important. The fact that I’m the first Argentinian to win it is also a great honour.
You were nominated along with Xavi and Iniesta. The youth coaches at Barcelona are obviously doing a good job.
I think so. This is recognition for the club for all the work they are doing with the team and all the youth sides. And all that work can be seen not just on a night like tonight but whenever the first team plays.
It has been an outstanding year for you with Barcelona. In personal terms do you see this as the high point of your career?
There’s no doubt it’s been a spectacular year. I was fortunate enough to achieve a lot of important things but I’m not going to settle for what I’ve got. I’m still very young and there are still a lot of things for me to experience and try to achieve. You can always keep on growing.
You scored in four of Barcelona’s five finals in 2009. There is no doubt that you always seem to shine on the big occasion.
I honestly don’t know. I was lucky enough to be able to score a lot of goals in the finals, that’s true, but that’s all the result of teamwork. I was just fortunate to be there to score the goals.
This year has almost been a dream for you.
It’s been more than that. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine all the things I’ve experienced and achieved this year. And that’s the truth.
Things were not quite so easy in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010 though.
Yes, that was very tough. We struggled to qualify but we reached our objective in the end. The important thing is that we now have time in which we can work, change things around and arrive in the best possible shape.
Let’s talk about 2010. What are your hopes for the year ahead?
It’s going to be an important year for lots of reasons. There’s the World Cup, which I want to win with Argentina. And then we have to defend all the titles we’ve won with Barcelona. It won’t be easy because no one has ever done it before. And now we have the responsibility of trying to do it again for a second consecutive year. We’re going to give it a go though.
You mentioned the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. What is your view of Argentina’s group?
It’s a tough section without a doubt. It’s a mistake to think there are easy teams at the World Cup. All the sides are proud to defend their country and they all present different challenges. We really need to be on top form if we are going to go through.
The last time Argentina had so much trouble in qualifying was in 1986, and we all know what happened then.
Let’s hope history repeats itself (pauses). Argentina have gone into the finals as favourites on other occasions and done nothing. But this time, who knows? Things are the other way round this time and we might just spring a surprise.