Lionel Messi confirms he could have played for River Plate, one of Barcelona’s potential Club World Cup opponents.
River Plate, winners of the Copa Libertadores, could face Barca in the Club World Cup final, if the teams win their respective semi-finals, with Barca against Guangzhou Evergrande and River meeting Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
“That’s a very long time ago now. In the end it didn’t happen, but it is true that the possibility did come about, when I was very young,” Messi told an interview with FIFA’s official website, before reflecting on his only game against an Argentine club, the 2009 Club World Cup final win over Estudiantes.
“It’s a strange feeling. In my whole career I’ve only played against an Argentinian club once, and it was that final. It was a very tough game, one in which we were losing for a long period and managed to equalise right on full time, before going on to win it in extra time.
“But it’s also something that motivates me, because River are a big club on a global scale. I think that if we play against them it’ll be a good match.”
Messi also played in the 2011 final, when Barca beat Santos, who included in their team that day a face now familiar to Messi and the rest of the Barca squad – Neymar.
“A lot of time’s gone by since then and I’ve witnessed his enormous growth, both as a footballer and as a person,” Messi said of his Brazilian teammate.
“Back then he was already a really great player and now he’s even more so, he’s much more complete. Truthfully, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have him alongside us now.
“We’ve changed a little bit. We’ve become a more [direct] team. Of course, we’ve not lost our ideology of keeping hold of the ball, that’s our trademark and our priority: to control the play and keep possession as much as we possibly can.
“But now we’ve incorporated the idea that, with just a couple of touches, we can get in front of the opposition’s goal. Before it was about getting there using more elaborate build-up play.
“It’s a bit like what I was saying about Neymar. As time passes you grow, both on and off the pitch, you go about adapting to different circumstances. I think that, although I’ve kept the essence [of my style of play], over the years I’ve added qualities to my game.”
The suggestion was made to Messi that, having won so much in recent years, Barca might be excused for lacking motivation for more trophies.
“There’s no need [to search for motivation]! We know just how much the Club World Cup means and for us it’s about winning another title, these championship wins are an indelible legacy in the history of the club. It’s something very important,” he replied.
“It’s been an amazing year. That time when we won everything under [Pep] Guardiola [in 2009] looked unrepeatable, we genuinely weren’t sure if we’d one day get close to that again. And here we are. Now what’s left for us to do is end the year in the best possible way and make it unforgettable.”
Messi praised both the Club World Cup as a competition, and Japan as a host nation, specifically the fans who turn out to greet him and his teammates.
“It’s a really nice competition, one of my favourites. Both because of its importance but also due to what it signifies: having won the Champions League [to qualify],” he said regarding the tournament.
“And it gives you the opportunity to round off the year in the best possible way. So, I’m very happy to be with all my teammates, preparing for it. Our aim is to be able to lift that cup and then enjoy the holiday season with our families, with the championship in the bag.
“[Japan always leaves] very pleasant [impressions]. Particularly on the pitch, from when we won the 2011 edition, but away from the field too.
“The last time we were in the country we were able to enjoy a day off to go out, have a look around and walk the streets like anonymous people. The people always behaved spectacularly well with us, they’re passionate but respectful. It’s a country that I really like.”