Lionel Messi has reiterated a desire to finish his career in his native Argentina and reflected on a “painful” 2018/19 campaign that saw Barcelona crowned champions of Spain but miss out on the treble in a frustrating finish to the season.
Messi collected The Best FIFA Men’s Player award for the first time in Milan on Monday night, the sixth time he has been recognised by world football’s governing body as the player of the year, following wins in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.
The 32-year-old star beat old foe Cristiano Ronaldo and Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk to the top prize, and revealed after that it remains his desire to bring the curtain down on a glittering career with Newell’s Old Boys, the team based in Messi’s home town of Rosario.
Messi joined the club in 1994 as a six-year-old and spent six years with the club before Barcelona beckoned him.
And asked if he was thinking of ending his career back in Argentina, Messi told the FIFA website: “Yes. That’s what I’ve always said, haven’t I?
“It’s a childhood dream of mine to play in the Newell’s shirt, though I don’t know if I can make it happen. It’s not just down to me, though. I’ve got three children.”
The mercurial forward, who recently returned to the Barca first-team fold following an injury-plagued summer and start to the season, spoke on a wide variety of topics. This included reflecting on a shambolic end to 2018/19 for Barca in which the Catalan giants threw away a 3-0 lead in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool to lose 4-0 at Anfield and 4-3 overall.
“It was strange,” he said, speaking of his season.
“We were having a fantastic season as a team and then one match changed it all (Liverpool). It was such a massive disappointment that we just didn’t attach any importance to the league and we didn’t prepare properly for the Copa del Rey final (Barca were beaten 2-1 by Valencia).
“That’s how big a blow it was for us. That one game left its mark on a season that had been perfect up to then. We were so close to making another Champions League final, but it ended up being a painful campaign for us.
“I’m very happy to receive this award. Like I always say, though, individual awards are secondary to me because it’s the team that counts.”
He also spoke about perennial rival Ronaldo, once of Real Madrid and now at Juventus. The pair shared 10 Ballon d’Or titles between them from 2008-17 – winning five each – which sparked a decade-long debate, one that still rages, about who was Europe’s best player.
And even though rumour persists that the two do not like each other, Messi insists the rivalry is only confined to the pitch.
“Because of the big sporting rivalry that’s developed between us over the last few years, because one us played for Barcelona and the other for [Real] Madrid, and because we won individual awards,” Messi added when asked why people are surprised when they see the pair getting along together.
“People perhaps think the rivalry goes beyond football, but it doesn’t. We both want what’s best for our teams and neither of us like losing. It’s something we don’t accept. That’s why there’s that competitiveness between us. The important thing is that it stays there, out on the pitch.”
Messi also had warm words for Brazilian superstar and former team-mate Ronaldinho, as well as ex-Barca coach Frank Rijkaard, for the way they helped nurture him when he first arrived at the Camp Nou. And he hopes he can act as a mentor to exciting Blaugrana talent Ansu Fati, who has shone in the early weeks of the new campaign.
“I really like him and I try to help and support him,” added Messi, scorer of 603 goals in 689 Barca appearances.
“He’s an amazing player and he’s got what it takes to succeed. But if I look at it through my eyes, I’d like them to bring him on gradually, like they did with me when I started, taking things nice and easy and without putting pressure on him.
“You have to remember that he’s only 16. I hope he keeps on enjoying it and that all the fuss around him doesn’t have a negative impact on him because he has the quality to become one of the best.”
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