Lionel Messi on La Liga, Copa America Centenario, Champions League, more
The day after he helped Barcelona move closer to winning La Liga by beating Espanyol 5-0, Lionel Messi spoke exclusively to ESPN's Quique Wolff. For more on Messi, click here.
This interview was conducted in Spanish and then translated into English. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Quique Wolff: A lot of time has passed since we first interviewed you wearing that Lanus hat. All your dreams have come true, no?
Lionel Messi: A lot of time has passed since then! Luckily there have been a lot of happy moments, but some not so happy as is normal in football. But overall, I am very happy with what has been won so far. And especially for the club; when one has won more titles than one ever expected, it is good. As for the national team, we have been to so many finals and haven't been able to win a title so I still haven't been able to get that off my back, but that is football.
Wolff: There is just one game to determine whether Barcelona win La Liga and the fate is, luckily, in the club's hands.
Messi: Yes, luckily we have been able to get several points ahead. We suffered a dip at a time when we least expected it, after the international break, we had [Real] Madrid and then the qualifier against Atletico Madrid and then consecutive games in La Liga where we dropped many points. Luckily we counted on ourselves and now we are back on top.
Wolff: Is that the key, when the club get together and become strong and say: 'Guys we have to depend on ourselves?'
Messi: Yes, luckily we caught that in time and banded together. The truth is the elimination by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League was tough. We had been far superior in the first leg and we could have defined the qualifier, but the way we left it and then having to play there, well, that was very difficult. Because Atletico Madrid do what they do very well and that made it more complicated.
Wolff: Would you like to see Atletico Madrid win the Champions League?
Messi: Always for Barcelona, the fans don't want to see Real Madrid win anything, as they also feel toward us. But in the end it is a final that they made it to again and for us, we just need to focus on what we can win. We have two finals left, and it would be great to end the season winning them both. It also would have been great to have been in the Champions League final but it wasn't to be. So winning two of three would be spectacular.
Wolff: Playing against a Diego Simeone team, it is difficult, no?
Messi: They are a team very uncomfortable to play against. And [Simeone] deserves much merit for what he has done and made his players believe in him and do things perfectly because he has been at this for a while now. Apart from this he has very good players and reserves, who also come in and do the job when they get a chance.
Wolff: Regarding your goal on Sunday, people think this is all just luck but the truth is that you have been working on this all your life, this thing of the free kicks.
Messi: Yes, the truth is that we train for this; we work on how to move so that the ball goes to the right place and also you learn things over the course of your career.
Wolff: Now you have the goalkeepers confused because they aren't sure whether you are hitting the ball toward their post or over the wall. That plants doubt in the minds of the goalkeepers and gives you a little advantage, isn't that right?
Messi: Yes. To be honest, I like to hit the ball over the players' wall but from time to time I like to mix it up a little bit so that the goalkeeper doesn't know where I'm going and I want to keep him confused until I kick. I think for that reason I like to keep the goalkeeper in doubt.
Wolff: Copa America Centenario -- a new illusion?
Messi: It is a new Copa, different. Very nice in the United States and very different from what I have played before because of the people, the stadiums. That will make it different and for us, a new chance.
Wolff: Olympics? You would have liked to play, I bet?
Messi: I would have liked to go because it was a spectacular experience for me to play in the (2008) Olympics, just as it was for the (2005) U20 World Cup. Not just because we won, but for the experience I gained. It was a great experience to stay in the Olympic Village and meet other elite athletes from other sports and to be just another athlete among them; that was very spectacular even though we didn't spend a lot of time in the village.
Wolff: All athletes say that Olympics are special.
Messi: Yes, World Cup is great but Olympics are something special.
Wolff: Does it bother you to have made it to the World Cup final and not won? And then all the media buzz.
Messi: Well, that always happens. I am used to it. But yes, we made it to the final. It isn't like we only made it to the second round, we made it to the final and that is not easy. I have said this in other interviews: It is not easy. We were very close and we lost to Germany, a great national team with great players and they just got past us. Just like the Copa America, the loss came down to the details, we lost [vs. Chile in 2015] in penalty kicks. But to say that the media wanted to destroy me, I'm over that.
Wolff: You have Five Ballons d'Or! Five!
Messi: I never would have imagined that. As I told you everything I have won in my career was more than I ever dreamed in my life. The titles in group are very important to me but these [Ballons d'Or] are also very special.