Lionel Messi enjoying 'incredible' Copa America in a 'very special country'

Lionel Messi enjoying 'incredible' Copa America in a 'very special country'

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, the FC Barcelona and Argentina star discusses everything from his childhood to his admiration for Stephen Curry and explains why this month's tournament in the USA is so important to him

Leo Messi is in the United States, and he means business. After sitting out Argentina’s first game at the Copa America Centenario, a 2-1 win against champions Chile, he burst into action on Friday in Chicago with a spectacular hat-trick in a 5-0 rout of Panama.

“This one matters for Argentina” he says in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, “We have nearly won our last two tournaments, reaching the finals of the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 Copa America, but we came up just short both times … Sometimes people have questioned my Argentine-ness, especially when the national team hasn’t done well, but I love my country deeply and would like to move back someday.”

The American dream

Argentina have not won a senior trophy for 23 years, and if they can finally end the streak, Messi would be delighted not just with the trophy but also because “it will mean spending nearly a month in the U.S. and learning more about this special country.”

“The United States has always fascinated me” he explains. “From what I have seen on brief visits, there is nothing like the U.S.: how Americans live, what they have. It’s a unique country. The stadiums are incredible, and I can’t imagine a better place to host a special Copa America:”

In Grant Wahl’s article Lionel Messi in His Own Words, Messi draws comparisons with one of his favourite sportsmen, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. “Our small sizes, and even our playing styles, are similar” he says. “In December he sent me his signed Warriors jersey. I sent back my signed shirt in April to return the favour.”

“If you watch Curry play—or, just as revealing, warm up before the game—you notice his relationship with the ball. It’s like his body and mind are always on the same wavelength with the ball. I try to have that connection in my sport too. As a child, I always had a ball on me, from the time I woke up to the moment I went to bed. More than once I slept with my ball.”

“In those days kids could go out on the streets in Rosario and be safe playing soccer even if they came back late at night. Unfortunately, times have changed, and you don’t see that much anymore due to the crime, not only in Argentina but also in the rest of South America. Those ­moments with my friends and the ball—just us, no coaches—are beautiful memories for me.”

Move to Europe

The Barça striker also reminisces about his early days at FC Barcelona. “On the one hand, it was spectacular to come play at Barcelona” he says. “On the other, leaving everything behind in Rosario was tough: my friends, the rest of my family, my childhood, arriving in a country where I had nothing.”

It wasn’t easy, but it was more than worth the effort; “Earning my fifth Ballon d’Or in January was truly gratifying, especially after I hadn’t the previous two years.”

“I like to think that at age 28 I have grown outside of soccer as well. My foundation, which supports children in health, education and sports around the world, is about to turn 10 years old. And the births of our sons—Thiago, 3, and Mateo, 8 months—were life changing as well. I’m ecstatic about the family we have been able to create. A typical day involves taking Thiago to school, going to training, hanging out at home drinking maté and spending time with Anto and the kids at the park or somewhere. It’s a normal, calm life, the kind of life we have always wanted.”

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