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Messi driven to hit new heights

Published: Monday 22 February 2010, 15.55CET
Despite winning a glut of team and individual honours in the past 12 months, Lionel Messi remains hungry for more as he gears up for FC Barcelona's first knockout round trip to VfB Stuttgart.
by Graham Hunter
from Barcelona
Published: Monday 22 February 2010, 15.55CET

Messi driven to hit new heights

Despite winning a glut of team and individual honours in the past 12 months, Lionel Messi remains hungry for more as he gears up for FC Barcelona's first knockout round trip to VfB Stuttgart.

Occasionally when truly great footballers achieve fame, wealth and success, the ingredient in their make-up which is most easily corroded is the powerful hunger which once fired their drive for supremacy.

If that were to apply to Lionel Messi then now would be the moment in question. His club, FC Barcelona, mounted a brilliant campaign to win the UEFA Champions League last season amid a torrent of trophies; the Spanish title, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Super Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.

The Argentinian was also rewarded with a clean sweep of the most illustrious individual awards: being named in the users' Team of the Year, winning the Ballon d'Or and rounding it off with the FIFA World Player of the Year gong.

Despite all this, Barcelona's next opponents in their UEFA Champions League defence, VfB Stuttgart, should be aware that Messi remains ravenous for more of the same. "We have already written a page in history but we want to continue doing that," he told "We have to take advantage of this great team; all of us feel that.

"This is a special moment and the squad and technical staff all know that if we keep working hard then, step by step, we will achieve more and more. That's all the motivation you need. It would be nice to become the first side to retain the Champions League and we will see whether we achieve it."

Josep Guardiola will be without the injured Eric Abidal and Seydou Keita for the Stuttgart trip, while Daniel Alves and Xavi Hernàndez are doubtful – more reason, perhaps, for Barça to heed Messi's warnings. "German sides are always strong," he said.

"However, we have a good recent record against Bundesliga teams. It's also helpful to play the second leg at Camp Nou. So we will be ready for the test and the Barça mentality is that we travel to Germany with the intention of winning the first leg in order to make the return game calmer."

Statistics back up Messi's memories; the Blaugrana's last five trips to Germany have yielded three wins and two draws, most recently 1-1 in last term's quarter-final at FC Bayern München to seal a 5-1 aggregate victory.

Assisted ascent
Barcelona's rise under Guardiola, from having won no trophies in the two seasons prior to his arrival in summer 2008 to their status as Spanish, European and World champions, has been characterised by Messi's development as a prolific goal-provider and scorer.

This term he has already scored 16 times in the Liga, two more in Europe and supplied ten assists in all competitions. All this follows the 2008/2009 campaign when his header in the Rome final against Manchester United FC helped confirm him as the UEFA Champions League leading scorer with nine, part of a season consisting of 38 goals and 19 assists.

Messi is quick to spread the acclaim. "First of all, it's due to the type of game this team plays – the number of chances Barça create makes it easier to score," he added. "Another aspect is my confidence. Perhaps when I started, in my first seasons, it took more time and effort to score, and it was difficult for me to constantly play so close to the opponents' goalmouth. With the confidence I have now it is much easier."

Before beginning preparations for the trip to Stuttgart, Messi also has a word of appreciation for the tens of thousands who voted him into the users' Team of the Year 2009. "It is a beautiful feeling that people recognise my work, and that they are with me," he said. "Also, to be the one with the most votes [250,000 in all], when many great players had been nominated, feels like great appreciation."

Last updated: 27/11/12 16.45CET