Those close to Lionel Messi will know that the fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or of his career will occupy a special place in his display cabinet. That much was clear from his emotional response to collecting the award from Kaka and from his broad smile and subsequent reaction to the award. The winner of five titles with Barcelona in 2015, the Argentinian needed one more accolade to round off a truly wonderful year, and it duly came on Monday in Zurich.
“It’s very special to win this award again after seeing Cristiano (Ronaldo) take it two times running,” said Messi, before opening up in unexpected and welcomed fashion. “It’s just amazing that it’s the fifth. That’s so much more than I could ever have dreamed of when I was a child.” The Argentinian was entitled to feel a little teary, after a 2015 that began with rumours of his unease at Barcelona but saw him inspire the team to yet more success en route to conquering the football world once more.
Reflecting on that turbulent start to the year, the magical triumvirate he now forms with Neymar and Luis Suarez and his possible return to Argentinian football one day, the newly crowned Ballon d’Or spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: You were very emotional up on the stage. What’s so special about this award? Lionel Messi: Obviously I’m very happy because of what it means. I never imagined I’d win it five times. If I think back to the first, in 2009, a lot of things have changed. I’ve grown and learned so much in football and in life. I’d just like to thank all the people who love me, who follow me in Barcelona, Argentina and around the world and I want to share this award with them. This is for them also.
It was only 12 months ago that there were rumours about unrest at Barcelona, with some saying you were set to leave for England. How have things turned around so quickly? Well, that’s football isn’t it? And anything can happen in football, and in a lot less than a year as well. I stayed calm the whole time, though. I always said that I was fine and that I was happy where I was. I just kept on that way and luckily it ended up being a very, very good year for us.
When did you realise that the situation was turning around? I think it was a bit tough to begin with. It’s always hard to change things. But once we started doing what we wanted to do, what the coach wanted to do, we gradually began to improve and perform better and better. Fortunately, we had a great year.
This Barcelona side has achieved a lot, and perhaps the most striking about it all is that Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez – three players who might have been rivals in other times – have teamed up to such great effect. What’s the secret to you linking up so well? I think it’s all down to the chemistry between the three of us, both on and off the pitch, and the type of people that we are too. We all want the best for the team, for the squad. That’s more important than anything else.
Neymar says that you are his idol. How does that make you feel? (Laughs) The fact is that I get on very well with Neymar. He’s said nice things about me ever since he arrived at the club. It makes me feel very happy to hear a friend and a colleague talk like that.
And what about Suarez? How does he rank alongside the other goalscorers you’ve played with in your career? It’s difficult to compare him to all the ones I’ve played alongside. There have been so many. What I can say is that he’s the best out-and-out forward there is in the game today. He has so much to offer the team and it’s a pleasure to play alongside him. We also have a very good relationship off the pitch and I’m very happy to be sharing everything with him.
You rounded off 2015 by beating River Plate to win the FIFA Club World Cup. Was playing an Argentinian team as strange as you’d expected? Yes, it was, for a number of reasons, like the atmosphere in the stadium and the number of fans supporting River. I know how excited all the fans and their players were about the game and how important it was to them. That’s part of football, though. Luckily, we managed to achieve what we wanted and win the game.
Did you apologise for scoring? It’s like I said: I know how much effort all those fans made in making that trip and how excited they were. And there was me, the Argentinian, scoring the first goal and ruining it all for them. I don’t know if I was actually saying sorry, but it was a type of apology.
When you see how passionate Argentinian people are about their football, does it make you want to go back there and play one day? Yes. I’ve always said that. It was always my dream when I was a boy, though I had to leave at a very early age because of my situation and it didn’t happen. I had to go to Europe, start out with Barcelona and make my career there. But I would like to return to Argentinian football one day. What happens after that, only God knows.
Talking of Argentina, you’ve got the Copa America coming up this year. Do you think the trophyless run will end and that long-awaited title will finally come? I hope so! We can’t see when it’s going to end and when we’ll finally win something with the national team. After everything we’ve been fighting for we deserve it. We’ve played quite a few finals now and not won any of them. Someday it’s bound to happen.