'Lionel Messi doesn't have many friends in the world of football'

‘Lionel Messi doesn’t have many friends in the world of football’

MAINTENANCE – Author of a biography on the Argentinian, Le Roi Leo (Solar), Florent Torchut looks back on his first season in Paris and reveals his hidden side off the pitch.

Journalist at The Team and France Soccer, Florent Torchut is one of the journalists who knows Lionel Messi best, having followed him at Barcelona since 2016 and then at PSG, interviewing him at length on three recent occasions. Le Breton signs a biography of the “Pulga” (Solar editions), a remarkable investigative work enriched by numerous testimonies collected in Argentina from those who grew up with the sevenfold Golden Ball and which make it possible to better understand the personality very singular of the 34-year-old striker. We met him in Paris a few days ago to discuss his book and the Argentinian’s failed season.

Florent, you have interviewed Lionel Messi three times since 2019, how would you define his personality in a few lines?

Florent Torchut : I think he’s shy, not withdrawn but in his bubble, a little outside the world. As soon as he leaves the field, he becomes Leo Messi again, Mr. Everyman, while we do not necessarily imagine that of a football superstar. When you go to interview him at his home, he opens the door and puts you at ease right away. His wife Antonella offers you something to peck or drink. A perfectly normal welcome from someone who could be your average neighbor.

How did your first long interview with him go?

I had it a lot in the mixed zone at Barça but the first head-to-head, in November 2019, took place in the suburbs of Barcelona, ​​a residential area where Ronaldinho had encouraged him to settle. We arrived in a magnificent villa, a bit Californian with a view of the sea. The security opened the gate for us and we saw him arrive, very relaxed in shorts, dressed a little washed out… It’s not really the king of style. He reminded me a bit of a teenager in his welcome. The fact that I know the people who had worked with him in Argentina had clearly facilitated our contact. It seemed extraordinary to him. He kept saying to me: “And him, do you know him? Him too ?”…

How does he behave face to face?

He is open to all questions but doesn’t really appreciate being chained to a particular player. I had tried to discuss Kylian Mbappé a little in depth and at the end of the second question, I had seen that we had to change the subject… We can try to sting him with certain questions to pick him up a little but with him, it is a mistake not to commit. It closes like a hedgehog. This was somewhat the case during my first interview by the way (laughs). You have to ask him more open questions, it allows him to pick things up from right to left and push him to confide better. But he does not watch the clock ticking and remains available even if for the last interview, in Paris, he seemed a little confused in his installation. We had been able to discuss 45 minutes, without overflowing.

What is your analysis of his very average first season in Paris?

It is a whole. He came out of his Barcelona cocoon where he spent 21 years and where everyone knew, from the security person to the presidency. He was in a bubble and unprepared to step out of his comfort zone. In Paris, he spent three months at the hotel and that disturbed him a lot, I had confirmation of this from his very close entourage. Regarding the sporting side, he did not really know in which direction the team was going or what Mauricio Pochettino wanted to do with him. He plays much further back than at Barcelona, ​​far from the goal, which has allowed him to be the best passer in Ligue 1 (Messi and Mbappé, 10 assists each, were doubled on Saturday by Rennais Benjamin Bourigeaud, 11 caviars, Editor’s note). His record is not satisfactory but not everything is to be thrown away.

I’ve never seen anyone in football be so attached to routine

Florent Torchut

Lionel Messi needs routine to flourish, has this transfer disturbed him to the point of making him less effective?

Yes, this routine is extremely important to him. I’ve never seen someone in football be so attached to routine, a bit like a kind of grandfather (laughs). He likes to be at home and watch Disney with his children.

Is he enjoying Parisian life a bit?

Not so much, but he hardly ever went out to Barcelona. Nightlife and bling-bling do not interest him. Parisian glamor is really not his thing. He needs stable landmarks, surrounded by his wife and children. His first months were complicated before he and his family found accommodation. Putting an hour to go to training to pick up his children in traffic jams marked him because he did not know that in Barcelona. Only football really interests him, he watches a lot of TV and his relations are very family, even clannish with the South Americans of Paris-SG.

Lionel Messi with Leandro Paredes. Federico Pestellini / PANORAMIC

Messi doesn’t have many friends in the football world. They can be counted on the fingers of one hand, Di Maria, Suarez, Aguero…

Florent Torchut

Which players from the locker room does he rub shoulders with outside?

He sees, for example, Angel Di Maria or Leo Paredes to have an asado (barbecue in Argentina). These appointments are very family, surrounded by companions and children. After the asado, they can play cards, it’s not necessarily very rock’n’roll. Messi doesn’t have many friends in the football world. They can be counted on the fingers of one hand, Di Maria, Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero… This is his base. He needs to really feel confident. You have to tame it and you don’t become friends with it in two minutes.

Does he get along well with Kylian Mbappé?

Very well. Mbappé knows what Messi stands for. Moreover, he immediately went to see him on the pitch after the elimination of Argentina by France during the 2018 World Cup. There is enormous respect between the two. In recent years, Messi always cited Mbappé as a player who could replace him and Cristiano Ronaldo. And then, Mbappé speaks very good Spanish, which facilitates the exchange but it remains two players who are not from the same generation. Mbappé is not necessarily invited with the Argentines for an asado.

Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe. SUSANA VERA / REUTERS

After a mixed first season, would Messi be tempted to go elsewhere?

He will stay because he does not want to leave on a failure, as with the Argentine selection. He will insist. I think that the next two-three months without challenges will allow him to better find his place. He is ultra-competitive. Young, he was a very bad loser, and for anything: a card game, the Playstation or a match. He even threw tantrums because he hated defeat. He was also capable of being irascible at Barcelona when he was losing and even Busquets couldn’t approach him. Luckily, he still made progress on that.

Will he guide the future recruitment of Paris-SG?

Legend has it that he was going to knock on the door of Josep Maria Bartomeu (the former president of FC Barcelona, Editor’s note) to say I want so and so. It never existed even if we asked his opinion, especially for the arrival of Antoine Griezmann. He is not a sports director bis contrary to what we have heard or read.

The episode of the whistles against him, it was a matter of state in Argentina

Florent Torchut

How did Argentina experience their difficult months and the recent whistles after elimination against Real Madrid?

His coming to Paris was seen as a revolution, but the Argentines quickly followed him to a city they greatly appreciate. Paris is the city of love, perfumes, museums and glamor for this population. I was in Argentina at the time of the episode of the whistles against him, it was a matter of state, like the note of 3 in The Team, which has been much commented on. The Argentines did not understand that the public had also whistled the leaders.

Did those whistles affect him?

Yes, but at the same time, he understood them. It didn’t make him happy, necessarily, but he knows he has to do better, especially in terms of statistics. On the spot, Marcelo Gallardo also reminded the Argentines that they had a short memory and that in selection, he had been whistled and very criticized. But since the Copa America victory, we can no longer touch Messi. It is an untouchable idol, a national heritage.



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