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In the TIME’s cover story, Bobby Ghosh outlines Messi’s coming-of-age career with FC Barcelona and the player’s future ambition with his national side. The journalist also addresses the question of whether or not the Argentine should be considered the best football player of all time.

King Leo, perhaps the best player ever to grace a football pitch

Mr. Ghosh writes in TIME that “every generation produces players who change the game with their talent or approach - Puskas, Di Stefano, Pelé, Cruyff, Maradona, Zidane. Messi’s third Ballon d’Or cemented his place in the galaxy of greats, it also made him the centerpiece of a singular argument.” The argument: should Lionel Messi be considered the best football player ever? Mr. Ghosh goes on to cite Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, as saying “Messi is amongst the best ever,” and quotes Josep Guardiola, “[he] could be the best player of all time.”

The journalist builds his argument with Gary Lineker’s, England’s iconic striker, observations on Argentine star: “I look at him, and he does at least three or four things in every game that I never did in my whole career.” Terry Venables, another famous football man that hails from the British Isles also had words of praise for Barça’s number 10: “it’s not possible what he does.”

Despite the accolades and words of praise, perhaps the only thing that outshines Messi’s trophy-studded career is his humility. When the player picked up his third consecutive Ballon d’Or in Switzerland this January he told Mr. Ghosh, “year after year, I’ve grown, improved ... I was lucky to start very young and always have very good colleagues around me as I was comping up, this had helped me and how I play.”

Mr. Ghosh, a lifelong FC Barcelona fan, admitted that Leo Messi was in his editorial queue for years. But what made the journalist pull the trigger on the story was the Argentine’s third Ballon d’Or conquest: “for me, it sealed his claim to be the best player of his generation. That was the perfect moment to put him on TIME’s cover.”

His instincts were correct. After the TIME edition featuring the portrait of a solo footballer for the first time in the history of the publication hit the stands on Sunday the media and online reaction was palpable. “Judging by the media reaction and the buzz on the Internet, this was one of our most talked-about cover stories, worldwide,” the journalist said.

One on one with Messi and the playmaker’s World Cup ambitions

On interviewing the understated three-time Ballon d’Or winner, Mr. Ghosh said: “he is famously shy and withdrawn. The challenge was to get him out of his shell a bit. I can’t honestly say we managed to do that: it would probably take several meetings before he got comfortable with me. But we managed to get a couple flashes of candor.” While Messi prefers a more low-key profile to the bravado that’s probably expected of a superstar, one who is possibly the best player to ever grace a football pitch, he did open up when asked about the World Cup in 2014: “I hope it’s the moment for Argentina and that we can become champions. I’m going because I want to be champion and share the World Cup with my national team.” Ahead of the World Cup, the Argentine said, “there’s still a lot of time to prepare and improve.”

You can read the entire interview with Leo Messi here.

Leo’s impact in the United States

Interest in football in the United States, while in its embryonic stage compared to Europe, is growing precisely because of players like Leo Messi. “As Americans grow more and more interested in football, they also get more and more knowledgeable. It would take a national opinion poll to judge how much they know about Messi, but if I had to guess, I would say he’s quite well known - more than, say, Rafa Nadal, or Fernando Alonso,” Mr. Ghosh said. The journalist went on to say that “young Americans, who play football a lot, know Messi very well. In New York, I see many kids wearing the Barça shirt with his name on it.

Bobby ‘Cule’ Ghosh

The journalist talked about his affinity for the Club saying that: “as I say in my story, I have been a Barça fan since I was very young. I was attracted to the style of play, the philosophy of Barça football ... but mostly, I was attracted by the attitude of Barça, on the field and in the terraces.” As many football fans profess, there is a difference between having a fondness for a club and being real supporter, Mr. Ghosh said he crossed that threshold when he “saw on TV a game where Barça, playing at Camp Nou, won the game 1-0, but didn’t play well. After the final whistle, the spectators boo-ed the team. I thought to myself: ‘That’s a club where it’s not enough to win, it’s more important to play well.’ I was already a Barça fan before then, but that day I became a ‘cule.’”

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