Balague: How I Separated Fact from Fiction to Write Lionel Messi's Biography

Guillem Balague@@GuillemBalagueFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

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It's day three of "Inside the Football Media" week at B/R and for Wednesday's column we asked Guillem Balague to tell us about his experiences writing "Messi" which was released in December 2013.

- Day One: Ollie Holt talks about life as a football writer
- Day Two: Gary Lineker on Match of the Day, Stats and TV punditry

Leo Messi is, in the eyes of many, the trickiest, most elusive footballer of this and probably any other generation. Little did I realise when I set out to write about his life and struggles that he could often be as elusive off the field as he was on it.

"If you want to know about me, don’t ask me, ask the people who know me," he has often said. So the process of writing my new book was clear.

Writing my biography on Pep Guardiola had left me shattered and yearning for some well-earned R&R on a beach somewhere hot. However, when Orion asked me to do another book, writing a story about the Argentinian superstar’s life, it became a challenge I couldn’t refuse.

'Messi' by Guillem Balague

Getting Leo and his family to agree to it was another matter altogether. Weeks of tortuous negotiations where I tried to explain to the family that what I wanted to write was not your run-of-the-mill "over the moon" or "sick as a parrot" football bio but rather one that explored the psyche, methodology and sacrifice required in order to make it to the very top. 

In the process, what I also wanted to do was to put to bed many of the myths and misconceptions that abounded in the life of the mercurial genius that is Leo Messi. 


Eventually all parties agreed with me that there was a gap in the market to tell it like it was, which is what I did. It is a credit to both Leo and his family that despite there being a number of highly personal details about the split caused in the family because of Leo’s success in Spain, or the complex and delicate relationship with his dad and manager, at no point did they demand that I change a single word of what I wrote. For that I will always be immensely grateful.

Jon Super

Of course, there’s a long way between being told you can do something and actually doing it.

Organising the interviews with previous coaches, teachers, friends, relatives, teammates seemed to take forever. It took my research team and me more than three weeks and a bombardment of emails, Whatsapps, texts and phone calls to, for instance, manage to pin down Carles Rexach, who was the man who finally agreed to sign Leo, to agree to talk to me.

Then when he did, I almost blew it when I took the wrong motorway on my way to meet him and ended up arriving late. Joan Gaspart, on the other hand, despite an inordinately busy schedule, took time out to return my researcher’s call and meet me at very little notice in Barcelona to talk about Leo.

Multiply those stories by 50-odd.

Pep Guardiola, the subject of my previous book, and now at Bayern Munich, also gave me enormous amounts of his extremely precious time to give valuable insights on the little maestro. He had not spoken in so much detail about Leo and doesn't plan to do it again, or so he said.


When I lived in Liverpool years ago, you couldn’t meet a person that didn’t know intimately at least one, if not all four, of the Beatles. Similarly in Rosario, there wasn’t a person you spoke to that hadn’t known, coached, played, gone to school, or worked with Leo at some time or another.

If you were to believe what everyone told you, then there must have been something in the region of 100 coaches looking over a match played by 200 people per side when Leo played his first-ever game. Separating fact from fiction, reality from fantasy was one of the hardest aspects about writing the book.

And then suddenly everything fell into place and as quickly as it came it went and something that has dominated everything in your life for a certain number of months has gone and there’s a mixture of relief, sadness, along with that desire to get your life back and make amends to all the family and friends that of late haven’t existed.

Would I do it again? No, not until the next time anyway. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the beach (well, after the end of the season anyway) Ermm... actually I signed yesterday the contract to do another book. But I have a year to write it.

So, yes, beach first.


Quotations obtained first-hand unless otherwise noted.