Often dubbed a European icon, 'MESSI' a terrific account of Leo's final attempt to endear Argentines at FIFA World Cup stage

Often dubbed a European icon, 'MESSI' a terrific account of Leo's final attempt to endear Argentines at FIFA World Cup stage

Updated: 7 days, 17 hours, 9 minutes, 56 seconds ago

Lionel Messi, arguably one of the greatest footballers of all time, is still searching for something. It is for that elusive World Cup win which has remained beyond his grasp. That is what separates him from Diego Maradona. For Argentina, Maradona is still the greatest as he got them the World Cup in 1986. Messi wore the same jersey number – 10 – as Maradona. It symbolises greatness ever since Pele wore it. So, this could be the last chance for Messi. Ahead of what is expected to be his World Cup farewell at Qatar, this BBC documentary, called MESSI, gives a layered understanding of what he is all about.

Messi has remained an enigmatic figure, described as someone "who does not exist beyond the football pitch."

If Maradona thrived on conflict; Messi thrived on cooperation. Therein lies the difference between two greats belonging to different eras despite coming from the same land.

The film has access to some terrific archival footage of Messi as a child. Yes, he was a child prodigy who realised his enormous potential. He was painfully shy, introverted, self-effacing, but knew he had supremely gifted talent.

Messi joined Barcelona's academy, La Masia, when he was 13. This was the academy that produced players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, and Cesc Fabregas.

Former Barcelona, Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Fabregas says his first impression of young Messi was that "he was a very small kid, didn't speak, he was very shy".

This shyness is a recurring theme, with Guardian journalist Jonathan Wilson claiming that Messi used to change in the hallway at La Masia rather than having to enter the changing rooms.

Journalist Guillem Balague, who has written a biography of Messi, says six months after arriving in Barcelona, Messi's parents called a family meeting. His sister, Maria, had not adapted well and his brother, Matias, had a girlfriend back in Rosario.

"It was a time to decide, 'do we stay in Barcelona or do we go back to Rosario?'," says Balague. "They sat around the table and asked, 'Leo, what do you want to do?'

Leo said, 'I want to succeed. I want to be at Barcelona, I want to be a professional player." This, coming from a young kid, showed his commitment but everything in life comes at a price.

What Messi hadn't been told was his mum would take his sister and two brothers back to Rosario (hometown) while his dad would stay back.

"Often, he would go into his room and put his head under the pillow and cry," says Balague. "He did that, so his dad didn't hear him. Aged 14 to 15, he realised that, because of his decision, he couldn't get it wrong."

That was big pressure on a very young head.

The documentary has his school friends describe how Messi would draw crowds from age 9.

By the time he left Barcelona in 2021, Messi had helped the club win 10 La Liga titles, four Champions League trophies, seven Copas del Rey and eight Spanish Super Cups. In all, he won 35 trophies at Barcelona which is a record.

His former teammates Fabregas and Xavi recount what Messi was like in the dressing room. Ex-Argentina team-mates Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Mascherano and Hernan Crespo explain his more complex sides.

Yet, how is it that Argentina's all-time top scorer has had to cop abuse at home? He was even branded as a European and less of an Argentine icon.

At 35, the Argentina forward has won the Ballon d'Or - awarded to the world's best player - a record 7 times and also won the Fifa Best Men's Player award once. Other honours include four Champions League triumphs, 11 top-flight titles and Copa America glory in 2021. The World Cup is the only glaring omission.

Rio Ferdinand had the misfortune to come up against Messi and the rest of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona team in a Champions League final not just once, but twice. Manchester United faced the Catalans in 2009 and then again in 2011 - losing on both occasions.

"Messi was just like, no eye contact, nothing, just separated himself, played away from you and then, all of a sudden, he'd turn up, 'bang'," describes Ferdinand. "They took our souls that night."

Despite his greatness, Messi has not been able to shake off the comparison with Maradona who became immortal after Argentina's 1986 World Cup win.

Messi appeared in the 2014 World Cup final and has played in four Copa America finals but had not won a major trophy for his country until the 2021 Copa America victory.

The other player that Messi is constantly compared with is Cristiano Ronaldo. Between them, they've shared most of football's big honours for more than a decade.

Messi's former team-mate Xavi believes it's very real. "Cristiano gave him an extra push to become a better player," he says.

Is the quiet Messi a good leader? Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez reveals the inspirational team talk that captain Messi gave before Argentina beat Brazil in the 2021 Copa America Final in Rio.

Martínez, 30, recounted what Messi said. 'Emi saw his daughter born on FaceTime. He couldn't even give her a cuddle. So, let's do it for him.'

"I had butterflies in my tummy when he said that. He nearly made me cry just before the game had started. At the end, I hugged him so hard. I said: 'We did it.' I was crying."

Title: Messi

Genre: Sports Documentary for BBC

Duration: 60 minutes

Producer: Barry Murphy

Executive Producer: Gabby Cook

Platform: BBC One