Lionel Messi: Quotes on Barcelona Star from His Coaches, Team-Mates and Rivals
Lionel Messi is just a decade into his professional career, but the 10th anniversary of his debut for Barcelona is a great time to take a trip down memory lane.
Perhaps until his career is over and the world is deprived of watching him in action on a weekly basis, we will not be able to fully articulate and explain what a talent the Argentinian is. But it shouldn't stop you from trying.
Of course, Messi's performances and achievements have sparked plenty of debate about where he stands against the greatest footballers to have ever played the game. And while that debate will rage long after Messi has hung up his boots for the final time, it has provided some wonderful and thought-provoking quotes.
Here, we look at the memorable way some of his closest friends, fiercest rivals and greats of the game have assessed him.
Ronaldo was quoted earlier this month by World Soccer, (via Goal) on the rivalry between the duo:
This is part of my life. It is normal that people compare us. I am used to it. It happened to me at Manchester United and I know how to manage it.
We are football colleagues. Outside of football I have no relationship with Messi, but not with other players either. It is a positive rivalry.
There's very little the pair can do about their rivalry—they happen to be the leading lights of their era and dominating for La Liga's two biggest teams.
Few people have seen Messi at work from as close as his former coach Pep Guardiola, and the Spaniard has often been challenged to explain the forward's brilliance.
On one evening in March 2012, he was asked once again—Messi had just scored five in a game against Bayer Leverkusen as Barcelona rolled on in the Champions League.
Per the BBC, Guardiola said:
He's the best [ever], there is no other like him. The numbers speak for themselves. One day he'll score six. We'll never see a player like him again.
We witnessed one of Messi's special nights tonight, it's a gift and I will always be able to say that I coached him.
The only credit I can take is that I always put him in the team and we just try to make sure he gets the ball. After that our task is done.
The throne belongs to him and only he will decide when he wants to relinquish it.
While Messi has the respect of all those who play the game, not everyone is enamoured by him.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, now at Paris Saint-Germain, suggested in his autobiography that Messi was the reason that he'd failed to make an impression at Barcelona.
In quotes reprinted by the Daily Mail, Ibra said of his stint in Spain:
It was a childhood dream and I was walking on air. It started well but then Messi started to talk.
He wanted to play in the middle, not on the wing, so the system changed from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1. I was sacrificed and no longer had the freedom on the pitch I need to succeed.
So I asked for a meeting with Guardiola—for a discussion, not an argument. I said I was being used in the wrong way and that they shouldn't have bought me if they wanted another type of player.
I told him what a friend had said to me—"you bought a Ferrari but drive it like a Fiat."
Ronaldinho once wore the No. 10 shirt at Barcelona that Messi has now made his own, and the Brazilian has spoken fondly of his time in Catalonia with the Argentinian.
In quotes published by Sportsmail, via ESPN, in 2013, the Brazilian was asked whether he regretted not playing in the Premier League during his career:
No, because I have played for some of the biggest teams in the world and won everything. The only regret is not playing more seasons with Lionel Messi.
He is my good friend. I could see even at a young age he was going to be the best. It was exciting to see this kid who could do things most players can only dream of.
Messi for the last three or four years has been the best player in the world—he has been at a level of consistency I don't think the world has seen before.
To be a Brazilian during the week of the World Cup final this summer was difficult after their 7-1 defeat to Germany. To be a Brazilian supporting Argentina to win on their soil in the final was more difficult still.
But that's exactly how Neymar, still reeling from the back injury which ruled him out of the tournament, reacted.
As the AFP (via Yahoo!) reported, Neymar's relationship with Messi was such that he could pull for the nation's fiercest rivals in one of their darkest hours:
Messi's history in the sport is so important, he has won a lot of trophies and I will be cheering for him. He is a friend, he is my teammate and I wish him luck.
Does the man many would refer to as the best player in history think that Lionel Messi is on his level? Not exactly.
According to a 2012 interview he gave to Le Monde, (in French, h/t BBC), Pele reckons that Messi still has a way to go:
When Messi's scored 1,283 goals like me, when he's won three World Cups, we'll talk about it.
I like Messi a lot, he's a great player. Technically, we're practically at the same level.
He's a great player for Barcelona, but when he plays for Argentina he doesn't have the same success.
People always ask me: 'When is the new Pele going to be born?' Never. My father and mother have closed the factory.
Diego Maradona is an icon in Argentina, a legend of the world game after taking his country to victory on his shoulders in the 1986 World Cup.
Filling his shoes seemed an almost impossible task, but Maradona anointed his own successor when he spoke of the 18-year-old Messi (quotes via Sky Sports):
I've seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentinian football and his name is Messi.
He is beautiful to watch—my kind of player in our blue and white jersey.
He's a leader and is offering classes in beautiful football.
He has something different to any other player in the world.
Angel Di Maria
Angel Di Maria has an unusual vantage point on Messi. The Argentinian is a team-mate at international level and was for four years a direct rival at Real Madrid.
And it speaks volumes when he says that his successes, as wide and varied as they are, will not stick with him as long as the fact that he played alongside Messi.
As he said in an interview with Sport360 this summer:
When I am an old man I will tell my grandchildren bedtime stories about when I won the Champions League, hopefully when I won the World Cup, but most of all I will tell them that their grandfather used to play with Lionel Messi.
Showing just how often the Ronaldo vs. Messi debate divides the opinions of the sport's most knowledgeable figures, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho once said he would only accept Messi as the best player on the planet if Ronaldo was, by extension, the best in the universe.
Mourinho managed Ronaldo at Real Madrid and was speaking passionately for his player to win the 2012 Ballon d'Or—an award that eventually went to Messi.
As quoted in Portuguese daily A Bola (via The Independent):
When someone with the same responsibility as me comes out and says: 'Mine is the best on the planet' then I have to say: mine was not born in Madeira, he was born on Mars; he is not from planet Earth, he is the best in the universe.
If Messi is the best on the planet, Ronaldo is the best in the universe. It would be a crime if Ronaldo did not win the Ballon d'Or.
Samuel Eto'o spent five years at Barcelona. When he started, Messi was breaking into the team, and by the time he left, the Argentinian was the best in the world.
And as Marca records, the experience of watching Messi develop has stuck with the Cameroonian striker:
Messi is God, as a person and even more as a player. I knew him when he was a boy and I've watched him grow. He deserves it all. I hope that he can win the World Cup with Argentina. He's a good boy and I wish him all the best.
Zinedine Zidane was hailed as the world's greatest player during his time, and as an opponent and coach at Real Madrid, he has seen plenty of Messi's work from the other side of the pitch.
But there is only respect for what Messi is achieving when the Frenchman talks, as Goal reported him saying in 2010:
He makes the difference most of the time. In particular, he is always going forwards. He never passes the ball backwards or sideways. He has only one idea, to run towards the goal.
So as a football fan, just enjoy the show.
Being Messi's team-mate means you're sure to be asked about the Argentinian. And Barcelona's Xavi gives a more succinct answer than many.
Around the time Messi was awarded the 2010 Ballon d'Or award, the Daily Telegraph reported him saying:
It is clear that Messi is on a level above all others. Those who do not see that are blind.
I am asked this question [is Messi the greatest player on the planet?] every season and every time I say the same thing. He's a fantastic player and moreover he is my friend.
Johan Cruyff, a former Barcelona player, manager and icon, is one of the most significant voices on anything to do with the club.
And when the Dutchman speaks about Messi, it is always glowing.
Take this example from 2012, as reported by Catalunya Radio and passed on by Goal.com:
For football, Messi is a gem because he is a role model for every child in the world.
Barca play a type of football which delights everyone in the world and they have a coach with great human qualities, something that is extremely important nowadays.
Messi has a lot of quality and he fits in very well in the team.
At Atletico Madrid, manager Diego Simeone's job is to find ways to negate Lionel Messi's influence.
At international level, the Argentinian can revel in the role his countryman plays—and compare him to Maradona.
And Simeone, as Eurosport quotes him, believes Messi is the superior player:
Diego filled us with emotions. But between the cracks, without doubt, Messi is better than Maradona.
Andres Iniesta and Messi have played together for a decade, and the Spaniard's dynamic passing game has won its fair share of plaudits and awards.
But Iniesta says that part of Messi's success is the club he has called his own, and without Barcelona, the player would not be the same force.
As he told the club website in 2013:
Football isn’t an individual game—it’s a team sport where by working together, all of our individual abilities have a better chance to shine. I’m better with Leo, Leo’s better with us—that’s the important thing: that we are all aware of our responsibility in making things work.