There is not much that has not already been said about Lionel Messi. Still only 22, the 2009 FIFA World Player of the Year has won everything there is to win with his club Barcelona and is a familar face in the four corners of the globe, his public appearances attracting legions of admirers.
Yet, as he explains in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the Argentina No10 still has one dream left to fulfil: to win the FIFA World Cup™. As well as discussing that lofty objective, the magical Messi gives us his thoughts on the pressure that comes with spearheading La Albiceleste's challenge at South Africa 2010, and his desire to keep reaching new levels of excellence.
No shortage of confidence
It was not so very long ago that Messi cut a somewhat shy and reserved figure whenever he appeared before the world's press. Those days seem to have gone, however. Now just as at ease in front of the cameras and microphones as he is on the ball the Argentinian has grown accustomed to being in the spotlight – a spotlight that has only intensified since he embarked on his meteoric rise to global stardom.
Despite having touched the pinnacle, Messi believes his best is still to come. "I don't think I've reached my peak yet," he says, his appetite for success undiminished. "My dream is to win the World Cup with Argentina and then to go and repeat what we've achieved at Barcelona, and to keep on going after that. My aim is to keep improving day by day. I want to keep on growing, I want to learn the things I don't know and to keep working on the things I do know so that I don't forget them."
At Germany 2006 he became the youngest ever Argentina player to score a FIFA World Cup finals goal, although he spent most of a frustrating tournament on the bench. Things promise to be very different in South Africa, where Messi will be the man La Albiceleste are banking on to spearhead their bid for a third world crown.
Not that the extra responsibility has altered his approach as he prepares for the tournament. "No, the fact is it doesn't," comes the unequivocal response. "I know I'm going to have more responsibility and more opportunities, but I'm just as excited and as keen as I was the last time. We are very confident we can have a good World Cup and lift the Trophy."
"The fact is I'm relaxed," he continues, shrugging off the obvious pressure that comes with wearing Argentina's No10 jersey. "I didn't go looking for any of this and I haven't tried to create any of it. The same thing happened to me in Barcelona and things have gone really well for me there. I hope I can play with the same style and character for the national side."
A new beginning
Argentina's journey to the world finals was an arduous one. In danger of elimination as the qualifying competition came to a close, they only booked their place in South Africa in their final game, yet Messi believes this will have no bearing on their performance in the next few weeks.
"The qualifiers are behind us now," he says. "For one reason or another we found it tough and we had to put a lot of hard work in. This is totally different, though. Argentina are always going to be one of the favourites. We've got some fantastic players and we are a great national team that's always right in there competing for trophies."
In Messi's eyes one of the main reasons he and his team-mates can go into the tournament in confident mood is the identity of their coach, Diego Maradona, a man who knows what it takes to win the biggest prize in football. "Exactly, we all know that," he says. "That's why I said that the qualifiers don't mean anything now. We have a lot of faith and desire, and Diego's experience is going to be crucial."
Though Argentina are favourites to top Group B in South Africa, the Barcelona man is taking nothing for granted. "There are no pushovers in the World Cup. I saw Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations and they are a typical African team with good and physically strong players. We played Côte d’Ivoire in Germany and they [Nigeria] will be a similar proposition. I haven't seen much of Korea Republic and Greece but to win games, you have to go out and play them. We have confidence in our ability, though, and we feel we can get through the group comfortably enough."
Before signing off, Messi gives one final indication of what makes him tick. "My dream is to win, come what may," he says with a steely look in his eyes. "I can picture us getting to the Final, winning it and holding the Trophy aloft. I haven't even thought about how we'll get there, but I'm convinced we're going to win it."