Messi: I'm very proud to be here
© AFP

Lionel Messi's tentativeness in front of the media is in stark contrast to his trademark audacity on the field. Indeed it is precisely because of this daring and uninhibited play that the Argentinian finds himself among the nominees for the 2008 FIFA World Player award. Moments before heading to the Zurich Opera House for the Gala ceremony, the Barcelona star found time to talk to FIFA.com.

"Obviously, it's a delight to be here among the top five players in the world. I feel immense pride as my rivals are really great players. Each of us has our own style and way of playing and, in that respect, we're all different. However, we're all here for a good reason," says the 2007 runner-up with typical modesty.

For Messi, the highlight of 2008 was his gold medal at the Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing with his beloved Albiceleste. "To have won such a wonderful and important tournament for our country is very special.  To have done it twice in a row now makes it even better," says La Pulga.

Maradona's appointment as Argentina coach has only provided more motivation for him and his colleagues, he says. "It's great because of all his experience and everything he's done with the national team." Asked what his new coach has said to him on taking over, Messi would only say: "He made it clear that he was starting this process from zero and that we'd have to work extremely hard to give Argentina our very best."

At club level, Lio admitted that it was only in the second part of the year that he found his top form. "When you‘re happy and the squad you're in is doing well, that can only help a player's performance. Still it's hard to say what's brought about the change in Barcelona's fortunes. Some new players arrived, we wiped the slate clean at the start of the season and set ourselves lofty targets. A combination of determination, hard work and dressing-room discipline has given us the advantage we need to achieve important things."

As for his goals for 2009, Messi once shows his ambition. "To qualify for the World Cup with Argentina and win everything we enter with Barcelona," he concludes.