Javier Saviola "I am proud and happy"
© AFP

Javier Saviola was the most outstanding player in the FIFA World Youth Championship Argentina 2001. Not only did the 19 year-old become a world champion on home ground and was voted the best player of the tournament, but he won the top goalscorer award as well.

FIFA Magazine: You became a world champion with Argentina on 8 July 2001. What does this title mean to you?
Javier Saviola: When I was a little boy, I used to dream about taking part in a world championship. And now I really am a world champion! It was an indescribably wonderful feeling holding the trophy up in the air after the 3-0 win over Ghana in the final in Buenos Aires.

Not only were you crowned world champion but you also won the distinctions of top goal scorer and best player of the tournament all at the same time.
I never thought I would receive so many prizes. But I don't feel like a superstar. My team-mates and coaches have helped me to come so far and I am very grateful to them for that. I would never have achieved all this on my own.

You made your debut in the Argentinian professional league at the age of 16. Twelve months later you were voted America's Player of the Year and then you made your first appearance in an "A" international.
It is true that everything happened very quickly over the past few years. I myself am surprised that I have achieved so much in such a short time. I have a family and friends who make sure that I keep my feet on the ground and don't veer off the rails. And they would all stand by me and help if I hit a bad patch in my private life or sporting career.

You are only 19 years old but you seem to be surprisingly mature both on and off the field. How do you manage it?
When you have been in the limelight from such a young age as I have, you learn to live with it. Especially in a football-mad country such as Argentina, where footballers are constantly the focus of public interest. I try to behave like a professional both on and off the field. That includes signing autographs and giving interviews. But there is a limit to everything. I don't want to be swallowed up and I too have a right to a private life.

In Argentina you are already a superstar. You are constantly besieged by fans and reporters and almost every move you make is scrutinised. How do you cope with it?
It is difficult for me to go to a supermarket or a well-known restaurant in Buenos Aires. People recognise me immediately and close in on me. I enjoy the fact that people like me. That shows that they appreciate me as a footballer and as a private person and that I am on the right track. But I don't want to be in a permanent state of siege, which is why I avoid certain things and places. I avoid going to discos like most other 19-year-olds. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I make sure it is an inconspicuous one with few guests. But most of all I like spending my time with my family and friends, preferably at a grill party.

What do you do in your spare time?
I am a quiet person and I like listening to music and staying at home. As a footballer I spend a lot of time travelling, so I enjoy it all the more when I can stay at home. I still have the same friends I had when I was a young boy. Although I am now well-known, fame hasn't changed me at all.

But your life is already being turned upside down. You have just switched from River Plate to Barcelona FC and from your home town of Buenos Aires to Spain.
Of course my life will change. After all, I am living in another country and am playing for one of the best and most famous clubs in the world. I know I shall miss my friends in Buenos Aires. But my father, Roberto, and my mother, Mary, have come to Barcelona with me. I am very happy about that and it will take a lot of the pressure off .

Barcelona FC paid a transfer fee of 22 million US dollars for you - a huge amount of money for such a young player.
I am not worried about the amount they paid. After all, I didn't demand it. But it does play on my mind sometimes. Twenty-two million is an incredible amount of money. Life is difficult for many people in Argentina. Unemployment in my country is a huge problem. Many people go hungry and live on the streets and countless families do not know where the next penny will be coming from. I am glad that my family, friends and I are in a luckier position. But that doesn't mean that I forget the others. I live in hope that Argentina will soon find a way out of the current crisis.

One of the reasons that you switched to Barcelona FC was because you were hoping for better medical care for your father, who is very ill. How much does your father's condition worry you?
When I am on the pitch, I think of nothing else but football. Just as well, otherwise I would probably lose my nerve. But I hope that my father will soon be feeling better. My family is the most important thing in life for me.

How much encouragement did you get from your parents to become a professional footballer?
My father used to play basketball and always encouraged me to have a good education. I managed to do just that. But I wanted to become a footballer even when I was three. While my friends were playing all kinds of games, I used to go around with a football and kept trying to score goals. When I reached the age of five, I started playing on a small pitch and in the street and, at the age of eight, I resolved to join River Plate. Fifty other youngsters had the same idea. A few of us were taken on after being sighted at a training session by a talent scout - and I was one of them. I progressed through River Plate's entire youth programme to their professional team - always sporting the number 7. This number has no special significance for me. It was just the number on the first shirt I was given. It has brought me a lot of luck and success so I would like to keep the number 7.

Have you never suffered a setback in your career so far?
Yes, when I was a junior with River Plate. I was left on the substitutes' bench for a while because the coach thought I was too small and too skinny. That was very discouraging. But, soon after, I started playing regularly for the third team and a few months later made my first appearance with the professionals. Then in no time I found myself playing alongside my idol, Ariel Ortega.

And now you are wearing the Barcelona FC shirt.
I am proud and happy that Barça had been showing intense interest in me on for months. In Barcelona, I am playing with some of the best footballers in the world - a fantastic feeling. I want to adapt to Spain as quickly as possible and to entertain the officials and fans at Barcelona FC with my style of play. My dream is to win a championship title with the club as soon as possible - preferably a European one, of course.

If you had three wishes, what would they be?
First, the very best for my family and friends, and above all, good health, of course. Second, to become a famous and successful player with Barcelona FC. Third, to take part in a FIFA World Cup™ - best of all next year in Korea and Japan - and become world champion.