From shy genius to 'bad boy' leader – Messi’s Qatar transformation (2023)

From shy genius to 'bad boy' leader – Messi’s Qatar transformation (1)

From shy genius to 'bad boy' leader – Messi’s Qatar transformation (2)

When Lionel Messi won the World Cup at the fifth and, seemingly, final attempt in Qatar last December, it was the last jigsaw piece in arguably the greatest footballing CV of all time.

But victory was only part of the story.

Behind the scenes and then on the biggest stage, Messi's transformation in the Middle East became evident.

The 35-year-old's genius has long been beyond doubt and debate. But his character had changed. As a teenager, Messi was so painfully shy he would get changed in the corridor to avoid his team-mates in the Barcelona youth set-up.

"This World Cup he was different," said Argentina and Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

"We are probably more aggressive than the players in the national teams he's played with before. So he's probably becoming a little more like us - that bad boy."

Here, some of the stars from the recently-released BBC Sport documentary Lionel Messi: Destiny, unpack and dissect that final evolution of Messi - from shy teenage genius to talismanic "bad boy".

From shy genius to 'bad boy' leader – Messi’s Qatar transformation (3)

"He's a great lad but he can't even direct traffic. How can you give the national team to Scaloni?"

Diego Maradona's typically colourful thoughts regarding Lionel Scaloni's appointment to the Argentina manager job in 2018 captured the mood of the nation.

Putting it bluntly, Scaloni was a Lionel Messi appointment - a deliberate decision by the Argentine Football Association to keep a generational talent onside and in the side.

In the years prior to Scaloni's appointment, Messi had a troubled relationship with the national team and, at times, with the national boss.

After a talented Argentina team was comprehensively beaten by Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup, Maradona, then-Argentina coach, criticised Messi's leadership qualities.

A fiasco of a 2018 World Cup campaign brought an early exit for Argentina and another coach in Jorge Sampaoli.

(Video) Lionel Messi: The Qatar Evolution - From Shy Genius to Bad Boy Leader #shorts #news

Sandwiched in between was 2016, a year which saw Messi briefly retire from international football after missing a penalty in the Copa America final defeat by Chile.

Such set-backs ensured that the number one motivation for the Argentine FA in appointing Scaloni was to keep their number one star happy.

"The FA had a single objective, to find a manager who could work with Messi and get the best out of him," said Messi biographer Guillem Balague.

"When Scaloni took over he said to Messi, 'what do you think, what would work for you?'.

"It was an equal conversation, and you have to do that when you have the best player in the world."

Argentine journalist Marcela Mora y Araujo added: "He was appointed without massive press coverage or a presentation moment - there seemed to be little energy to go hunting for big names.

"Most people were furious. We didn't know much about him. The thought was that the job should go to a football celebrity or influential character, and it just went to a guy who was sort of anonymous."

From shy genius to 'bad boy' leader – Messi’s Qatar transformation (4)

However, it was that anonymity, small-town humility and lack of ego that endeared Scaloni to the Argentina squad - and crucially, to Messi.

"Scaloni's very relaxed," Argentina and Manchester City forward Julian Alvarez said. "Very honest, and he has that thing of coming from a small town. I also identify with that a lot because I also come from a small town, and you can see that human quality that he has."

Martinez added: "You're always going to have talented players, but it's how you manage them. It's like having a Ferrari - if you don't know how to drive it, then you're going to crash on every corner. That's the only explanation I can give for Scaloni - he knows exactly how to drive a Ferrari."

Creating a home from home in Qatar

Looking after what was under the bonnet was vital to keep Messi - and ultimately the Argentina squad - happy in Qatar.

Despite leaving Argentina as a teenager, Messi has held on to much of his Argentine roots and specifically his hometown Rosario.

"He speaks with an Argentinean accent, eats Argentinean food, watches Argentinean films and listens to Argentinean music," said Jonathan Wilson, author of Angels With Dirty Faces - a footballing history of Argentina.

Scaloni and the Argentine FA were fastidious about leaning into those home comforts for Messi and his team-mates, creating a "little Argentina" at their World Cup base at Qatar University.

Early in the Scaloni reign, some of the younger players bonded with Messi by knocking on his hotel door and asking him to play the Argentine card game of Truco.

That same game was ubiquitous in Qatar along with Argentine tea called mate, and, more importantly, asados (barbeques) with imported Argentine beef. It was reported the team brought in 900kg of the meat for their campaign.

"I think for all Argentina people, if you have mate and a beautiful barbeque you don't need more in life," said Messi's former Argentina team-mate Pablo Zabaleta.

According to both Balague and Mora y Araujo, these techniques ensured Argentina got the best out of Messi, transporting the top player in the world back to a childhood left behind when he moved to Barcelona aged just 13.

(Video) The Story Of Lionel Messi

On the pitch, the echoes of that childhood were most clearly heard during the quarter-final win over the Netherlands.

Dutch manager Louis van Gaal had questioned Messi's work-rate off the ball before the match. It was a move that angered his team-mates and added fuel to a historic enmity between the pair.

"Attacking Leo... you shouldn't do that to Argentines," Brighton's Alexis Mac Allister said.

Messi's feelings spilled out in the 73rd minute of the quarter-final. Messi celebrated Argentina's second goal by standing in front of the dugout, cupping his ears to seemingly mock Van Gaal's previous comments.

Messi and former Argentina international Juan Roman Riquelme are now close friends.

Before though, during Riquelme's solitary season at Barcelona in 2002, the relationship was more one of adulation.

Riquelme's former agent once recalled a teenage Messi "sitting looking at Riquelme as if he were Jesus Christ" at a barbeque arranged for Barca's South American players.

Mora y Araujo suggested Messi's celebration against the Netherlands - one which Riquelme has performed throughout his career - also reflected Messi's historic frustration at his friend being played out of his usual position during his time under Van Gaal at Barcelona in the early 2000s.

"It was surprising coming from Messi," she said. "The nod to Riquelme was unexpected."

Whatever the motivation of the celebration, it was not the end of Messi's combativity.

After the match, the Argentine forward confronted Dutch assistant Edgar Davids on the sidelines and in the tunnel he interrupted his own live TV interview to insult the Holland "number 19", as Messi called him, Wout Weghorst.

"In the tunnel on the way to the changing rooms - 'the number 19', as he calls him, walks by," Mora y Araujo added. "Messi interrupts the interview to say, 'go away silly, what are you looking at?'.

"Messi's delivery was very spontaneous. It has Rosario intonations, it's something someone's grandmother might say.

"It's clearly not mild anger he's expressing."

Balague suggested Messi "reacted in a way that, even he himself, did not recognise".

To understand the outburst it is necessary to go all the way back to Messi's childhood in his hometown of Rosario, 185 miles (300km) north west of Buenos Aires.

"There is an edge to Messi at the World Cup, and that is to do with the people he has got around him and him feeling comfortable with that.

"Because when he was 12, he was probably like that in the streets.

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"Then when he moves to Barcelona he has to be a different person, more Catalan, more distant, more quiet.

"But he had that in him.

"It's not that he became Maradona. It was the Rosario in him that appeared in the World Cup in front of our eyes."

Both Mora y Araujo and Balague point out that the insult Messi chose for Weghorst - "bobo" - is a word that only "kids use".

And Martinez agreed with Balague in suggesting the change was akin to a child falling in with the wrong crowd at school.

"We are probably more aggressive than the players in the national teams he's played with before," he said. "So he's probably becoming a little more like us - that bad boy."

From shy genius to 'bad boy' leader – Messi’s Qatar transformation (5)

For Wilson, Messi finding his voice was as much about the players that weren't there.

The presence of big talkers such as Javier Mascherano in previous Argentine teams meant Messi wasn't needed to perform that role.

But in Qatar, there was a vacuum.

Journalist Christian Martin was embedded in the Argentine camp throughout the tournament.

Both he - and Messi biographer Balague - were struck by how Messi filled that vacuum, from as early as the first match.

A shock 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia left one of the pre-tournament favourites facing a potential early flight home.

Historically, after such a setback, Messi would spend the least time possible amid the gauntlet of microphones in the media 'mixed zone' players are obliged to walk through.

"It took him an hour to go through the mixed zone after Saudi Arabia," said Balague.

"He was saying 'we're better than this'."

Martinez added: "He spoke to every single broadcaster and repeated the same sentence: 'Believe in us, we won't let you down. Stick with us.'

"It was a very strong sentence by Leo."

Zabaleta said: "I think we really enjoyed Messi, being a proper leader, but in a good way.

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"In hard situations he was the only one talking, he didn't want to send some of the inexperienced players out to the media and that was great to see."

This willingness to front up, in the press and on the pitch such as in the Holland game led to articles galore on the notion that Messi had become "Maradonised" and had found his "inner Diego".

But Mora y Araujo disagrees with the idea that Messi was channelling, or becoming, Maradona. Rather, he was, perhaps finally, comfortable in his own skin - a far cry from the teenager carrying the weight of his family's fortunes at Barcelona or the superstar weighed down by a nation's expectations at previous World Cups.

She said: "There was a lot of smiling on the pitch. His head was up. He was confident.

"He showed and transmitted an acceptance of himself. There was no awkwardness in delivering his awkwardness if that makes sense.

"People were texting and writing, 'has Messi been taken over by the spirit of Maradona...? Maradona speaks through Messi…' No! He hasn't turned into Maradona. He has grown into himself.

"For many years there was enormous pressure on Messi to perform, or to be, or to behave to some nebulous demand to be more Argentinean, to be more passionate, to be more like Maradona.

From shy genius to 'bad boy' leader – Messi’s Qatar transformation (6)

"I think for a long time he was uncomfortable with that.

"The main observable thing about Messi at this World Cup was a comfort in his own body. Less pressure to perform. More comfortable being himself."

Comfortable in himself. And comfortable with the stakes.

"I think he must have felt the breath of history on his shoulder. He must have felt time closing in on him," said Wilson.

According to Mora y Araujo, dealing with the clock ticking down on his career was Messi's greatest feat in Qatar. For a month he was able to kept calm, without dulling a ferocious desire to win.

"That's a very interesting combination. At the 2006 World Cup, he famously sat on the bench and didn't even get to play in the quarter-final defeat by Germany.

"There was a grouching, tantrum-y, child-like reaction so at odds with the Messi we saw in Qatar.

"It is a great progression to a point of emotional maturity.

"And I think it's wonderful to see that growth over a career of almost two decades."

Did Messi come of age? Did he channel the late Maradona? Did he rediscover a personality left behind in the backstreet games of his hometown of Rosario?

Whatever was going on in Messi's mind in the Middle East, it helped realise his sole focus - the winner's medal.

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"I think after this World Cup - he completed football," Martinez said.


Why is Messi the little man? ›

Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone disorder, or GHD. It is often called idiopathic short stature, but there are problems that go beyond being shorter than average. The treatments were expensive, a $900 monthly expense that his modest family could not afford.

Who is known as the new Messi? ›

The honourable title of the primary „new Messi” goes to Paulo Dybala. His name first began to break through around 2014, when the Argentine was still a little-known talent in the ranks of Palermo.

Who taught Messi? ›

Aged just four years old, Messi started playing football at his local club in his neighbourhood, Abanderado Grandoli. His grandmother, Celia Oliveira Cuccittini, was the one who encouraged little Leo to play football from a young age.

What was Messi's youth team? ›

Messi started playing football as a boy and in 1995 joined the youth team of Newell's Old Boys (a Rosario-based top-division football club).

Who is No 1 Messi or Ronaldo? ›

Messi vs Ronaldo Stats and Comparison of Goal, Trophies
Lionel MessiCristiano Ronaldo
International Goals102122
International Trophies32
Club Appearances849964
Club Goals703713
6 more rows
Mar 23, 2023

Why is Messi so brilliant? ›

Perhaps more than any other of his numerous qualities, Messi is unique for his blend of intelligence and perceptiveness as both a creator and scorer of goals. The little Argentine's decision-making between passing and shooting is especially clear in cases of an onrushing goalkeeper.

Who is the greatest footballer in the history of football? ›

Pele, the legendary Brazilian footballer, is considered the football god of all time. No player has won more world cups (3) than him.

Who is the best player after Messi and Ronaldo? ›

Top 10 Candidates for World's 3rd-Best Footballer After Messi and Ronaldo
  • Xavi. 8 of 10.
  • Radamel Falcao. 7 of 10. ...
  • Franck Ribery. 6 of 10. ...
  • Andrea Pirlo. 5 of 10. ...
  • Juan Mata. 4 of 10. ...
  • Robin van Persie. 3 of 10. ...
  • Thiago Silva. 2 of 10. ...
  • Robert Lewandowski. 1 of 10. Score four goals against Real Madrid in a Champions League semifinal? ...

Who does Messi idolized? ›

But Aimar's feelings were personal because while growing up, Messi regarded Aimar as his idol.

What is Messi like in real life? ›

“Anyone that knows Messi always say he's not shy, he's not timid, he's quite assertive, but he's an introvert,” said Kuper, who is currently writing a book about Barcelona. “He has a very predictable circle of his family members, his wife who he's known since childhood and a few friends, not many.

What did Messi believe in? ›

Lionel Messi is one of the world's most renowned footballers and is known for making headlines on and off the pitch. However, what many people don't know is that he is actually a devout Roman Catholic, and takes his duties as a Catholic very seriously.

What does Messi focus on? ›

Messi's workouts focus on maximizing agility and linear speed. His workouts are divided into sections. First, he practices the pillar bridge-front which tones abs, lunges, hamstring stretches, and pillar skips. To strengthen his core and leg muscles, Messi uses the hurdle hop and split squats.

Why is Messi so famous? ›

A prolific goalscorer and creative playmaker, Messi holds the records for most goals in La Liga (474), most hat-tricks in La Liga (36) and the UEFA Champions League (eight), and most assists in La Liga (192) and the Copa América (17).

Why Messi is the best? ›

Goals and assists

Where Messi has the edge over Ronaldo, and other contenders for the title of G.O.A.T., is his unselfishness in creating chances for his teammates. He has racked up significantly more assists than Ronaldo during his career, and still has time to extend his advantage over the next few years.

Who is richer Messi or Ronaldo? ›

Ronaldo beats Messi, Mbappe to top Forbes' 2023 rich list - ESPN.

Who is better Messi or Pele? ›

The Argentine has scored more World Cup goals - 13 - than his two rivals, though he's played more games. Pele hit 12 goals at the World Cup and Ronaldo has notched eight times. Pele's ratio, though, sees him come out on top again; 0.86 compared to Messi on 0.5 and Ronaldo on 0.36.

Who is the real goat in football history? ›

An analysis of the players' statistics reveals that Ronaldo was labelled the undisputed GOAT of soccer with the most overall goals, Champions League goals, club goals and assists, and international caps and goals.

Who is better than Messi? ›

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Titles
Cristiano RonaldoCompetitionLionel Messi
5Champions League4
4Club World Cup3
4National Cups*7
6 more rows
May 27, 2023

What is Messi's IQ? ›

According to some sources, Lionel Messi's IQ is recorded to be in the range of 150 – 170.

What personality type is Messi? ›

Lionel Messi is an ISFP personality type. He is sensual, kind, and creative.

Who is better dribbler Messi or Maradona? ›

Maradona tops our list as the best ever dribbler for many reasons. While Messi is closing ever nearer to the same hights as his Argentinian counterpart, Maradona was the master of dribbling. He used a style of dribbling called “Gambetta” which he would use his body position to trick defenders into going the wrong way.

Who is the richest footballer in the world? ›

Who is the richest football player in the world right now? Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo is the richest footballer player in the world right now after signing a contract with Saudi Arabia-based club Al Nassr which will see him pocket €200 million a year from his club alone.

Who is Barcelona best player ever? ›

The highest goal-scorer in the history of the club by a large distance, the one with the most successful career, Lionel Messi is not only the best player of all time for Barcelona, but he is one of the best players in the history of football.

Who is penalty missed king in football? ›

He has always been the top penalty taker for each team he has played for. However, more chances also bring more misses, and Ronaldo has been no exception. He has missed a total of 27 penalties out of 162 attempts.

Who can replace Messi and Ronaldo? ›

Kylian Mbappe

It is Mbappe who appears to be the leading contender to take on the mantle from Messi and Ronaldo, if measured in the potential to go on and win numerous Ballon d'Or titles. On the international stage, Mbappe already has a World Cup medal to his name with France.

Who is the best player in the history? ›

Top 10 football players of all time
1Lionel Messi802
3Diego Maradona353
4Cristiano Ronaldo819
6 more rows

Who is the most humble player between Messi and Ronaldo? ›

Messi is humble. A player who is loved by the fans, his teammates, the press and even by his opponents. He doesn't seek the lights like Ronaldo does, and handles his popularity with grace.

Which player is most like Messi? ›

Potentially Similar football players to Lionel Messi
Skill / potPlayerTeam
SkillPlayer / Team / Position
80.5 83.7Marcus Rashford Marcus Rashford Man Utd • AM (RL), F (C)Man Utd
57.2 83.4Marcos Leonardo Marcos Leonardo Santos • F (CRL)Santos
83.0 83.2Karim Benzema Karim Benzema Real Madrid • F (CRL)Real Madrid
17 more rows

Who is Ronaldo Favourite player? ›


One of the Brazilian striker's favourite players.

What does Messi eat? ›

Lionel Messi drinks a lot of water and consumes raw foods.

According to AskMen India, Messi incorporates a lot of olive oil, fresh fruits and veggies, water, seeds, nuts, and whole grains into his meals. In fact, a good portion of his diet consists of raw foods, which apparently give the star a solid energy boost.

Is Messi a friendly person? ›

Lionel Messi is a wonderful person—modest, caring, kind and talented. He may have been blessed to have reached the pinnacle of success; however, we cannot forget that he has been triumphant only because of his hard work and sincerity.

What does Messi eat before a match? ›

Messi's Nutritional Regimen Approaching a Soccer Match

1 day before a match:He eats fish or chicken with boiled potatoes, greens, and fruits to help build and repair muscle tissue.

What did FIFA President said about Messi? ›

World Cup: Lionel Messi didn't deserve Golden Ball, it was an error – Ex-FIFA President, Blatter. Former FIFA President, Sepp Blatter has said that Lionel Messi did not deserve the Golden Ball at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Did Messi have a church wedding? ›

An Argentine diocesan official has clarified that the local archbishop did not deny a sacramental Catholic wedding to Argentinian soccer player Lionel “Leo” Messi and his girlfriend, Antonella Roccuzzo.

What does Messi eat on a daily basis? ›

He has identified five key foods – water, olive oil, whole grains, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables – as the foundation for Messi's dietary regime. "Also very good are nuts and seeds,” Poser explained and has also advised his client to cut down on the sugar.

What good things has Messi done? ›

In addition to being an ambassador for UNICEF since 2010, Messi has created his own non-profit organization called the Leo Messi Foundation and has done many acts of charity on his own. Through these charity works and more, Lionel Messi has changed the lives of thousands of people worldwide.

What are the challenges Messi faced in his life? ›

He began playing from an early age, and his talent was soon apparent. However, at the age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency (GHD). This was a condition that stunted growth and required expensive medical treatment, including the use of the drug Human growth hormone.

Who is No 1 richest actor in the world? ›

Who is the number one richest actor in the world? Currently, Jami Gertz is the richest actor in the world with a net worth of $3 billion.

Who is the richest athlete in the world? ›

⚽️ No. 1 Cristiano Ronaldo ($136M): He tops the list for the first time since 2017 thanks to his $75 million annual contract with Saudi club Al-Nassr.

How many cars do Messi have? ›

How many cars does Messi have? Lionel Messi owns an estimated 12–15 cars in his garage. He has been an enthusiast of the automotive offerings by big names like Ferrari, Pagani, and Maserati.

Why is Messi called Little Messi? ›

How did Lionel Messi get his nickname? In 2005, Lionel Messi scored several goals by floating on the pitch for Barcelona. An Argentine journalist named him 'Pulguita' or 'The Little Flea'. However, Messi's brothers called him a little flea because of his small stature and playing style.

What did Messi do when he was little? ›

Messi was born in Rosario, Argentina, and showed a great aptitude for football as a child. He played at a club called Grandoli, which was coached by his father, from the age of five and later moved to Newell's Old Boys.

What is the story of Little Messi? ›

A little boy from Afghanistan went viral when he put on a Messi shirt made out of a plastic bag. It led him to meet his idol. It's made his family's life hell.

Is Messi called the little magician? ›

Recently, he won the Copa America 2021 for his international team, Argentina. All of these astounding feats earned Messi the nickname “The Little Magician,” as what he has done on the soccer pitch is truly magic.

Why was Messi called goat? ›

The acronym GOAT stands for Greatest of All Time and Messi is unquestionably the greatest of all time when it comes to football in the modern era.

Why is Messi called genius? ›

The second was a masterpiece of acceleration, power, balance, agility, vision and darting virtuosity. “I think this genius is impossible to describe,” Pep Guardiola, Barcelona's manager, said. “That's why he is a genius.

What is a funny name for Messi? ›

One of Messi's most famous nicknames is that of 'La Pulga', which means 'the flea' in Spanish. Messi has been known as 'La Pulga' ever since he was a child, having been diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at the age of 10.

Did Messi cry when he won? ›

Messi was overcome with emotion, embraced by teammates and reduced to tears as Argentina celebrated their nation's third world title – their first since 1986.

Does Messi help the poor? ›

The recent star of the 2022 World Cup champion team, Lionel Messi, has done a lot to help end global poverty. In addition to being an ambassador for UNICEF since 2010, Messi has created his own non-profit organization called the Leo Messi Foundation and has done many acts of charity on his own.

What can we learn from the story of Messi? ›

Fight for what you believe in

He never stopped fighting for his dream which was to play professionally. He made sacrifices of staying away from his family at the tender age of 13 to successfully make his dream a reality. "You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it."

What is the net worth of Messi? ›

It's thought that Messi's net work is 400 million dollars, as per Goal. His sources of wealth are listed as football contracts, endorsement deals, and investments.

Who discovered Messi talent? ›

The Argentinean's first football team was the local amateur side Grandoli. Messi was just five years old when their coach Aparicio noticed him. Aparicio recalled the first meeting with Messi and his supernatural abilities.

Who is the king of football magician? ›

Dubbed "Football Jadukor" ( lit. 'Football Magician'), he played for India national football team in 1924 and captained it in 1926. He played as a forward. Samad's football career lasted from 1915–1938.


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