Lionel Messi’s season is over already and his holidays have begun, with Ronald Koeman giving the Argentine permission to take early leave ahead of the Copa America.
Barcelona’s No.10 will not, therefore, be present for their season finale at Ipurua.
With his club future still up in the air, Messi has given an intimate interview to Ole in which he looks back on his career so far and shares his more personal side.
Messi’s football story began on the streets of Rosario and his grandmother was his first superfan, convincing a local coach to pick him for an older team.
“An older age group was missing a player and my grandmother, who knew the coach, started telling him to play me,” said Messi.
“‘No, how am I going to play him, look how small he is, are you crazy, they’ll hurt him’ but she kept saying ‘put him in, put him in’, and of course I got in, did a few things and from there…
“Then my grandmother went back to him and said: ‘Buy him some boots, I’m bringing him to training next week’ and that’s how it all started.”
Before his grandmother was doing a great job as his first agent, however, Messi was playing with a ball, with his family always a major influence.
“At four or five years old I was already playing with a ball, as soon as I could walk,” said Messi.
“I have older brothers, older cousins and we always played together.
“From a young age I had a ball at my feet and at four I started playing at the club, and in the street all the time.”
Some years later, Barcelona came calling and Messi’s relationship with the Catalan club began in what was an exciting but difficult time for the young player.
“To be honest, making that decision [to sign for Barcelona] was difficult, but at the same time it was quick,” reflected Messi.
“I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t think too much, but it was hard because when I arrived I couldn’t play because of some paperwork issues, then I started and I got injured.
“I spent almost a year not playing, I was training but it’s not the same.
“Then I was lucky that from there everything happened very quickly.”
As he says, after a tough start, things were soon going very well for the Argentine in Barcelona, but it wasn’t easy for a young boy to be so far from home and returning from visits was a bittersweet experience.
“I always came back from Rosario crying, not wanting to stay but also wanting to,” explained Messi.
“I wanted to come to Barcelona to keep doing the same, but at the same time it was hard to leave everything behind.
“I’ve lost a lot of friendships, communication was difficult…today any 13 or 14-year-old kid has a phone but it wasn’t like that back then, I’ve lost touch with many people because of issues of communication and distance.”
Messi had a rapid rise at La Masia, reaching the first team at a young age, but while still playing youth football, something from the first team came to him.
After suffering a similar injury to Carles Puyol, fracturing a cheekbone, he inherited the defender’s protective mask in order to play in the final of the Copa Catalunya, but it was naturally a little big for Messi, who was 14 or 15-years-old at the time.
“I trained a couple of times [with the mask], I played for five minutes and it was impossible, it was too big for me, it was moving everywhere,” recalled Messi.
“I took it off and threw it away, I played a bit, I think I scored two goals and we won 3-0.
“They took me off after 30 minutes.”
Messi remembers his father’s fury at him playing without the protective mask, but at the time he just wanted to play and was oblivious to the risk.
“My old man was shouting at the coach that I wasn’t to play without the mask, that he had to take me off,” said Messi.
“In the end they took me off but at the time I didn’t realise the danger, or what could happen.
“I just wanted to play any way possible, at the time [the mask] was annoying me, I put my head down, I couldn’t see the ball, I took it off and I kept playing.”
Almost two decades later, the Blaugrana star now has his own children to worry about and he says being with them is what he enjoys most in life.
“I’m lucky enough to be with them almost the whole day,” said Messi.
“I can take them to school, pick them up, take them to football and other activities and I love it.
“What I enjoy most is waking up, having breakfast with them…although sometimes you want to kill them,” he added, laughing.
With three kids, there is very little time for outings in the week.
“The truth is we go out very little, because of the kids’ day to day [routine]. We have three [kids] and in the end you end up adapting to their routine,” he said.
“They finish school and do some activities. You go to look for them and they are doing something, until 20:30 or 21:00 when we eat. You get them to eat, and then they fall asleep and we do too. You end up dead.”
The Argentine is happy to have met and become friends with other parents whose children go to school with his.
“I was lucky to have a group of spectacular parents. We started with Thiago’s, who was the first to go to school, make friends, and he has a very good group, parents too.
“It’s common to see each other, to get together… and I am just one of them.”
Messi was asked what the most difficult thing is about being the global superstar that he is.
“More than anything, the issue of going out. That outing where you want to go unnoticed and go somewhere where there are many people or to a shopping centre is the most difficult, but there’s no chance of not being asked for a photo.
“There are times when you want to be without that pressure. Many times you also have your crazy moments. And you’re crazy because you don’t want to run into anyone. People ask you for a photo or an autograph, and out there you don’t want to know anything.”
As a result of Messi’s fame, even his children, who feature regularly in his social media posts or at the stadium, are well known in the public eye.
“Thiago does not like it, he does not like to be recognised,” Messi said about his eldest child.
“His character is very shy and has a hard time. And Mateo, quite the opposite, he doesn’t care one bit about being recognised, or that they say this or that [about him], it doesn’t matter to him.
“Thiago doesn’t enjoy it and it bothers him a little more. But the two of them already realise it.”
A season without lifting either LaLiga Santander or the Champions League is generally seen as a failure for Barcelona, but Messi feels that the Copa del Rey triumph had plenty of merit.
“The truth is that the recent Copa del Rey was special due to the period we were in, the club has gone a couple of years of not having a great time due to different results and titles,” he said.
“Because it is a very young dressing room, with a lot of people, and new people, and this Copa del Rey for the dressing room was a turning point, and very important.”
Messi is often the first player who gets asked to exchange shirts after games, but he regrets that he didn’t do it more with some superstars when he was younger.
“I regret not having asked for shirts from players I faced when I was a kid. Like [Brazilian] Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos… players I faced and today I say I would have liked to have their shirt.”
Messi explained why he has let the beard grow freely in recent years.
“I had been shaving for a long time,” Messi said. “I had been with Gillette and they told me to shave. So, when I wasn’t with them anymore I decided not to shave.
“I think it was during 2016 at the Copa America in the United States. There were a lot of bearded guys. It’s the same with my hair. It’s either been long or short.”