Lionel Messi's fans are not just paying spectators. Juan Sebastián Véron says: "I see Maradona every time he grabs the ball and accelerates. But he is shy, like a little brother who likes to hang out with PlayStation rather than talk. We must protect him. I'd personally put him in a drawer of my bedside table." Johan Cruyff, whose mantle Messi is set to inherit at FC Barcelona, says Messi "deserves ten out of ten for doing what he does. The problem is that a policy of 'me against the world' might turn against you if you try it every time. He needs to regulate himself, learn when to pass it quick and when to try the impossible dribble he is so capable of doing. He must learn that when you have four players marking you, there are team-mates unmarked. When he learns this, he won't win a single Golden Ball, but an entire collection." With those words, you know the kid from Rosario is something special. In conversation, he is utterly realistic as he analyses his own game, the goalscoring trade and the temptation of trying to play beautiful football all the time.
Do you care what kind of goal you score?
If it's a good goal because it was preceded by a good move, I might celebrate it a bit more. But if I get a rebound and score in the very last minute of a derby, I'll celebrate like it was the most amazing goal.
Do you remember all your goals? And what about misses?
I don't know if I can recall every detail, but I do remember almost all of them. I like the one I scored against Getafe in the Copa del Rey because it was similar to Maradona's against England in '86. The one I scored against Mexico in the Copa América is another favourite. I don't think about the ones I miss, but I do try to learn from my mistakes.
Do you listen to advice?
Ronaldinho, Deco, and Juan Verón, when I'm with the national team, always tell me I should dribble when I'm near the area and pass when I'm further away, otherwise opponents can foul me knowing I won't get a dangerous free-kick or a penalty. I do try to take their advice, but the trouble is I really like playing with the ball at my feet.
What would you most like to improve about your game?
Without a doubt, heading is the part of my game that needs most attention. I'm not very tall. Luckily my agility sometimes makes up for my lack of height.
How much influence can a crowd have on a team?
Playing without the atmosphere from the crowd is dispiriting. It doesn't matter if that crowd is for you or against you. Without them, playing is boring. When I play at home at Camp Nou or at River Plate's ground it's a great feeling. And, even if the crowd can't score a goal, they can help. On the other hand, the influence of the crowd when you play away from home depends on your personality. Personally, it doesn't bother me.
When was the last time you laughed on the pitch?I don't know if I laugh, but every time I go out on the pitch I try to have fun. Of course, if I lose I feel bad and I don't want anyone to talk to me. I don't like losing. I never have, not even at PlayStation.
Nothing is going right during a game. How do you react?If I can't run with the ball, I'll pass it. If I'm having a bad game, I'll give the ball to a team-mate. If the ball's not coming to me, I'll go looking for it.
Have you ever been tempted to retaliate after a foul?
I hate being kicked when I don't have the ball. I understand it happening when I'm trying to run with it, and I'm OK with that. Several times when I've been kicked off the ball I've been tempted to retaliate, but luckily I've held back. I try to "retaliate" by putting together a good move.
If you shoot, do you like to place the ball or hammer it?If you manage to both place the ball and shoot with power, then you've all but scored. I scored one like that against Venezuela this season, powerful and to the right of the keeper. Usually I place the ball accurately because I don't hit it with a lot of power like Roberto Carlos does, for example.
Are Barça too keen to score the perfect goal?It's good to play beautiful football. And it is a constant temptation with team-mates such as Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Xavi, Deco, Henry… The trick is to make it effective.
You, Ronaldinho and Henry all like to roam. How do you manage not to lose the team's shape?We try to be organised: when one goes left, the other goes right. But sometimes we all drift to the same side, and that can distract and complicate things for the opposition.
How easy is it to form an attacking partnership?It is not easy. You have to know the other forward very well. That's the key. That's how you learn to know when to pass the ball and when to make a run to receive the pass from your partner.
Apart from those at Barcelona, which strikers would you pay to watch?
I'd pay to watch lots of strikers. Tevez, Saviola, Agüero, Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo… But not just them, there are lots.
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