Spanish football expert Guillem Balague has granted an exclusive interview to IBTimesUK, just two weeks after he published his new book about Barcelona star Lionel Messi.
Balague is famous to millions as a guest on the weekly Sky Sports show Revista de La Liga. In November 2012 he published the first international biography of Pep Guardiola, based on oneo-to-one conversations with him, and now he has written the story of Messi through long conversations with the Argentinian's family, his former manager Guardiola and some other key people in his live.
Here he tells us about the inspiration for the book, and details some remarkable revelations about the life of football's no.1 player...
How do you come up with the idea of writing Messi's book?
After the success that we got with Guardiola's biography, Orion [the publishers] saw that there was a potential audience interested and they proposed me to write another book. I thought that if there is one person who is great but whose story is unknown, it's Messi.
I just gave Orion the same condition that I gave when I wrote the Guardiola book - I need to speak with his closest family and confidantes. I asked Messi's family and after two weeks they called me and said: "Go on."
There are more books about Messi but we have the advantage of being the only one authorised by him.
Why do you choose Messi instead of Cristiano Ronaldo, who played for Manchester United and could be very interesting for British people?
Our market is not just England, it's the whole world. Guardiola's book was translated to 15 languages and this one was sold to 12 countries before it was even published. People do not know Messi at all and I think Messi's family accepted my proposal because there are other books about him with stories that are not true.
The amazing thing is that his first authorised book, as well the first biography on Guardiola to be written with his help, has been published in English before it was published in Spanish.
In the last few days there have been some reports about Messi's father, implicating him in money laundering and other types of fraud. Are there people interested in smearing Messi's image?
We already know that some of those stories are false but reports are published even though the reporters know. I believe that the world has got tired of Messi. Neymar is more handsome, Cristiano is suddenly nice for them... Also I think that Messi's family is very protective, they have tried to manage each of Messi's issues and now it's easy to attack them because they are not sufficiently protected, they cannot control everything.
There is an attack on Messi but not just from Madrid. The world has tired of him and people are trying to show that Messi is a bad person. It is unbelievable. It is a demystification with no sense.
After talking to so many people, travelling around Argentina... What has impressed you the most about Messi?
The sacrifices he has had to do to make where he is now and the complex relationship with his family. His father is also his manager, his brother sometimes plays the father role and his mother disappeared from his life when he went back to Argentina after six months in Barcelona. That created a special childhood for him.
Furthermore he forged a complex personality because since he was a kid, even before moving to Barcelona, everybody told him: "You have to win us the game". Sometimes that kind of thing makes people arrogant but in Messi that has created a huge inner strength that allows him to deal with everything.
Why is Messi so special?
He has built on his talent with a lot of sacrifice. He was not born with natural talent, what is genetic in him is his speed and his desire to win. That's something that belongs just to the best, when they win ten times they want to win twelve. Most of people believe that winning three times is enough but Messi always wants more.
Was he always the best?
Yes, even in Argentina, at Newell's Old Boys. Since he was eight he realised that he was the one that won the games on his own. In the Barcelona academy every Thursday, there used to be a meeting between the managers from different levels and they decided who was going to use Messi that weekend. They asked: "who needs to win?" and Messi played with that team.
How Messi adapted this personality to the Barcelona first team?
When the team does not play like he wants or he does not receive a pass like he wants he tells the rest, but not with words, with body language. He tells them that they do not have to do it like that because he knows how to win, because he has always won.
So it's true that he asked Barcelona to sack Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Villa?
No, when people say that he killed the strikers it's not like that. You have to think like a manager. For example, I believe that Guardiola made everything about Messi at Barcelona.
Messi used to played on the right wing and he made the same move that he had done all of his life, taking the ball on the right side, dribbling past two defenders and scoring. But Guardiola realised that there was a striker blocking his way and he decided that Messi had to play as a striker.
If you have Messi, you want him happy and you want him playing the best he can. When Villa signed for Barcelona Guardiola told him that he was not going to play as a striker anymore.He accepted that, but there was a moment that the train at Barcelona went so fast that Villa missed that train and left. But Messi did not ask anything.
It's the manager who decides who he wants to win the games and he generates the best scenario to do it.
But some people suggest that Guardiola and Messi's relationship finish badly after their last season together, is it true?
They are not in contact right now, I wrote that in the book and I tried to explain why. Football is like that. People move on. Now they are at a different stage. Messi tried to convince Guardiola to stay at Barcelona but Pep was sure to leave. Then both moved on.
How influential have Barcelona been in Messi's career?
He was already a star in Argentina at 11 years old. Barcelona have not changed him so much. His best movement, dribbling round two or three defenders to score, is the same as the one he did at Newell's Old Boys. His adaptation to Barcelona was tough because some managers asked him to play more with the rest of his teammates, but he thought "why should I change if I always win like this?"
But without Barcelona, would he be the star that he is today?
Maybe he would not have won four Balon D'Ors in a row but he would have been successful anyway. Having the best players in the world and having Guardiola as a manager have helped him succeed. You need to play in a very good team and have a valiant manager like Guardiola, who dispensed with Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto'o to improve the team. Making a decision like that is something that's very difficult.
Messi lived through the perfect storm, Guardiola got the second and the third best players in the world (Xavi and Iniesta) to work submissively to the first. That was amazing.
Is Messi the best player of all time or is it soon to say that?
It is not soon at all because what he has done for so many years and in so many big games make him the best in history. Guardiola says that and I agree. What Messi has done, nobody else has done. But it would be nice if he carried on and won a World Cup to ensure that nobody had any doubt about it.
Does he has a regret with Argentina?
He has a thorn with himself, with his family and with his friend for not having won a Wold Cup. They had a chance with Maradona. He met with Messi in a room and he gave him a pen and a paper to say what was his best team but Messi did not want to do that. Anyway, they reached an agreement but after one game Maradona changed everything again...
Does his rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo make him a better player?
Of course. Having an opponent so good makes you stronger. And Messi likes to also win the individual titles. Cristiano and he have a lot of respect for each other. They have a common past - they left their homes very early and they made a lot of sacrifices to become what they are now.
Cristiano likes to say that he is better when there are people around but I know that last year they met and, although at first they were distant, when they started to talk about football they connected.
Do you think Messi will leave Barcelona some day?
Only to go back to Newell's. It is not true that he has had some offers recently. There has been interest from other clubs but no one has made a bid to Barcelona for him.
And in the past, did he had a chance to leave Barcelona?
Yes, he was close to Inter Milan. It was in 2005, he was in talks with Barcelona over a new contract and the club told him that they thought that it was not necessary to renew as they had signed a contract not long ago. His agents understood that he needed more money because he was already an important player, after winning the under-20 World Cup, and Inter Milan told Barcelona that they would pay whatever they asked.
However (former Barcelona president) Joan Laporta convinced Messi's father to stay by telling him that at Inter he would get money but at Barcelona, as well as money, he would get glory.
Now it appears we are in a similar situation because one Barcelona representative said recently that they do not want to renew Messi's contract...
But I think the deal is already advanced. I believe he will renew. They are talking, I do not know why Barcelona suggested that, I believe that it was because they do not want to pay a lot but he will renew.
And from England, has any club been close to him?
Yes, in fact he was in talks with Arsenal when they signed Cesc Fabregas. He was close to signing for them. Arsenal had deals with Fabregas and with Gerard Pique. Fabregas signed and Pique also wanted to sign for them but his agent changed his mind at the last moment. And they also tried to sign Messi then.
There was contact between Messi and Arsenal but Barcelona convinced him to stay. Arsenal told Messi that if anytime he had problems at Barcelona they would be interested in him.
You have already written three books. Are you already thinking of a fourth one?
I have an idea but... maybe. It has to be something really amazing. Let's see.
Messi, by Guillem Balague, is published by Orion Publishing Group and available on Amazon, priced £10.56