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Wednesday 17 September 2014

An intriguing work on a true genius

New book on life of Lionel Messi

Published 25/12/2013 | 05:22

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Guillem Balague is a man who needs little introduction in the circles of professional soccer. Now the Sky Sports resident Spanish football expert has penned a new book on possibly the greatest footballer the world has ever seen - Lionel Messi, and he was in Ireland to share his vast wealth of football knowledge with the Irish people.

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Most football fans the world over will be of the opinion that Argentina and Barcelona star is a God among mere mortals but, having researched him extensively, is it a view that Balague shares?

'I most certainly think he is, yes,' was Guillem's prompt response. 'I had that opinion before I wrote the book and now that I know the sacrifices that he has made and what makes him so special I would definitely think he is. In life in general I think we take a lot of things for granted. The world moves so fast that we don't take time to appreciate what we are seeing. For a football fan, it is a thing of beauty to watch Lionel Messi play. Have a look at some of his goals, even just the goals from 2012. It really is spectacular to watch. Also for someone so short to make it to this level against all the odds is nearly unbelievable.'

Guillem got to work on his book on Messi very shortly after he completed 'Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning', taking very little time off at all. 'I've had no time to myself,' said Guillem. 'Also in the middle of the two books, I had to do a translation of the Pep book, so you could say I've done three books in three years. Basically the publishers came to me and said "What now?" which is very fortunate, so I took the opportunity. Once I had explored Pep's mystery, I wanted another guy with a bit of mystery around him ... and who is more mysterious than Lionel Messi?'

What we're presented with in the book is a detailed account of just how Lionel Messi became such a special player from some of the people that know him best and people who would've have helped him early in his career when he was 'Messi the boy' rather than 'Messi the greatest in the world'.

With headlines constantly being written on the back pages of newspapers all over the world about teams preparing ridiculous big money bids for the Argentinian demi-God, the question had to be asked: Could Lionel Messi ever leave Barca for someone like Man City?

'There is a little tension at Barca with his contract renewal at the moment,' said Guillem. 'He doesn't have the same fluid relationship with Rosell (Barca President) as he had with Laporta (his predecessor). But I can tell you that the contract he is negotiating, even though Barcelona have denied any negotiations, is worth up to £20 million net per year. Now if Man City come along and offer £30 million, does it really make that much difference? When you are talking sums like that, I don't think money matters anymore.'

However, Guillem stresses that even Messi can't fight age and he will need to change his game in the next couple of years. 'I think he needs to change his way of playing,' he said. 'Whether that means playing deeper, I don't know, but his body will demand that change. Neymar has come in and he raises the level of the team by being there and playing up front, but that transition will have to happen and I think everything is in place for it to happen at Barca.'

The January transfer window is rapidly approaching and nobody is sweating more than Liverpool fans who fear the loss of their troubled genius, Luis Suarez. With his contacts in Spain, as well as his close relationship with Pep Guardiola and his brother (Suarez's agent) Pere Guardiola, I guessed Guillem would have a pretty good idea what was going on. 'He's not leaving in January,' Guillem said most definitely. 'However in the summer we will see. It will be a matter of how resilient Liverpool are. He's obviously attracting attention from some big names though.'

Given his current blistering form, a lot of people have begun to compare Suarez with the Messis and Ronaldos of the world, however Balague says he has some way to go. 'Luis Suarez up with Leo and Ronaldo? Please!' he scoffed. 'We discussed Messi's consistency. How can Luis Suarez be at that level? These guys have been doing it consistently for six or seven seasons. If he can continue his current form for another two or three seasons, then who knows? Maybe he could be regarded as one of the best, if not the best, in the world. But he has a long way to go.'

As for Man United, Guillem predicts that they will be busy in the transfer market, not just in January, but for several windows to come. 'They'll have to spend big in January, and in the summer, and the January after that and in the summer after that,' Guillem said confidently. 'I think they need seven or eight players that can go almost directly into the lineup, and as we've seen with Spurs it's not an easy process. United need to make the transformation as quick and strong as possible.'

Far from subscribing to the 'Moyes Out' brigade however, Balague believes the blame for United's current state lies firmly with his predecessor. 'I think realistically that United squad needed recycling two or maybe three seasons ago. I think Ferguson was very clever to leave at this point. People say "Oh but they won the league last season." That may be, but I believe it really was the swan song for this squad.'

But will Moyes get the chance to turn things around? 'I think he'll be given the chance for sure,' was Guillem's immediate response.

With Spurs deciding to part ways with Andre Villas Boas this week, most people couldn't help but feel a bit of sympathy for the Portuguese manager. After all, he does have the highest win ratio of any Spurs manager since 1899. Unsurprisingly, Guillem was one of those questioning the sanity of such a decision.

'It's very sad really,' he said. 'Villas Boas was under excessive pressure at Spurs and it must have become unbearable. When you look at it from a distance, they are a team who are what? Five or six points from the top? And they breezed through the Europa league. I think some fans didn't like the style of play that he brought, but in my view, it's a very bad decision.'

Having chatted with Guillem, you can immediately see why he is regarded among the finest minds in football journalism. His latest offering 'Messi', the only authorised biography of the Argentinian superstar, is a great read and is definitely one for the Christmas list of any footie-mad family member.

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