How do you motivate yourself when you have already won everything, and more than once? “There’s no need!” answered Lionel Messi, to a question that, to him, must seem somewhat strange. With motivation permanently infused in his genes, he does not have to search for it or stir it up – it is in his nature to always want to achieve more. Now with his sights set on Japan 2015, Messi is chasing his third FIFA Club World Cup crown with the same desire with which he went for the first.
For all that, he is more comfortable going one-on-one with the world’s finest goalkeeper than a microphone, being a player who prefers to do his talking with the ball. At close quarters, though, he does retain the same capacity to surprise he enjoys out on the pitch, perhaps because of the contrast between the sense of calm he transmits in person and the electricity that crackles in his play, between his softly spoken manner and the whirlwind vibrancy of a footballer who has already gone down in history.
Barcelona’s No 10 sat down with FIFA.com prior to jetting off to the Land of the Rising Sun to take a look at the tournament ahead, evaluate his growth as a player and give his verdict on a year that could possibly bring him his fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or… And suddenly, as he goes over everything achieved, the Argentinian smiles one of his half-smiles and admits it has indeed been “an amazing year”.
FIFA.com: Barcelona’s first game at Japan 2015 is just around the corner. How does taking part in this tournament make you feel?
Lionel Messi: It’s a really nice competition, one of my favourites. Both because of its importance but also due to what it signifies: having won the Champions League [to qualify]. And it gives you the opportunity to round off the year in the best possible way. So, I’m very happy to be with all my team-mates, preparing for it. Our aim is to be able to lift that cup and then enjoy the holiday season with our families, with the championship in the bag.
You’ve visited Japan several times now. What kind of impression has the country left on you, in general terms?
A bit of everything, but always very pleasant [impressions]. Particularly on the pitch, from when we won the 2011 edition, but away from the field too. The last time we were in the country we were able to enjoy a day off to go out, have a look around and walk the streets like anonymous people. The people always behaved spectacularly well with us, they’re passionate but respectful. It’s a country that I really like.
That 2011 edition was the last time Barcelona took part in this tournament. In the final, Barça pulled off a brilliant 4-0 victory over a Santos side featuring Neymar. How would you compare the player he was then to what he’s like now, as your team-mate?
A lot of time’s gone by since then and I’ve witnessed his enormous growth, both as a footballer and as a person. Back then he was already a really great player and now he’s even more so, he’s much more complete. Truthfully, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have him alongside us now.
Two years previously, you claimed your first Club World Cup winner’s medal, after a dramatic 2-1 final success over Estudiantes La Plata. And this time, you might find yourself up against another Argentinian team, River Plate…
It’s a strange feeling. In my whole career I’ve only played against an Argentinian club once, and it was that final against Estudiantes. It was a very tough game, one in which we were losing for a long period and managed to equalise right on full time, before going on to win it in extra time. But it’s also something that motivates me, because River are a big club on a global scale. I think that if we play against them it’ll be a good match.
Is it true that, before you joined Barcelona, you could have gone to River?
Yes, but that’s a very long time ago now. In the end it didn’t happen, but it is true that the possibility did come about, when I was very young.
What’s your take on how Barcelona have evolved, over all the years you’ve been at the club?
We’ve changed a little bit. We’ve become a more vertical (direct) team. Of course, we’ve not lost our ideology of keeping hold of the ball, that’s our trademark and our priority: to control the play and keep possession as much as we possibly can. But now we’ve incorporated the idea that, with just a couple of touches, we can get in front of the opposition’s goal. Before it was about getting there using more elaborate build-up play.
And from your personal perspective, how have you felt within this evolutionary process?
It’s a bit like what I was saying about Neymar. As time passes you grow, both on and off the pitch, you go about adapting to different circumstances. I think that, although I’ve kept the essence [of my style of play], over the years I’ve added qualities to my game.
Having won everything in club football, how do you motivate yourself for the next tournament?
There’s no need [to search for motivation]! We know just how much the Club World Cup means and for us it’s about winning another title, these championship wins are an indelible legacy in the history of the club. It’s something very important.
What’s more, it would be the icing of the cake of an incredible 2015, featuring wins in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and potentially, in individual terms, the FIFA Ballon d’Or…
It’s been an amazing year. That time when we won everything under [Pep] Guardiola [in 2009] looked unrepeatable, we genuinely weren’t sure if we’d one day get close to that again. And here we are. Now what’s left for us to do is end the year in the best possible way and make it unforgettable.