Barcelona's Lionel Messi admits anguish over accusations of lack of passion for Argentina

The 24-year-old forward, who has spent half of his life living in Spain, insists that he loves his country and gives his all every time he lines up for the national team
Lionel Messi has admitted that he has been hurt by accusations that he does not care about playing for Argentina as much as he does for Barcelona.

The 24-year-old has established himself as the best player in the world on the back of his performances for the Spanish club side, but it has been alleged within his homeland that he has yet to perform as majestically on the international stage.

Some claimed that the perceived disparity in the quality of his performances was down to a lack of patriotism on the part of a player who moved to Barcelona when he was just 12.

Messi has dismissed this, and confessed that such talk saddened him.

“Yes, yes, it hurt, it bothered me,” the diminutive No.10 told Time Magazine, in the first occasion that a football player has been exclusively on the cover of the publication in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific.

“Because they said things that weren't true - that I didn't care as much about wearing the [Argentina] shirt.

“I didn't feel that, I didn't think that. And now, I think what people need to understand is that this is a team game, and that I try to play the same way there as I do in Barcelona, and always do the best I can.”

Messi also dismissed the suggestion that his love for his country has been diluted by having spent half of his life living in Catalunya.

“I've never stopped being Argentine and I've never wanted to,” he declared. “I feel very proud of being Argentine, even though I left there.

“I've been clear about this since I was very young, and I never wanted to change.

“Barcelona is my home because both the club and the people here have given me everything, but I won't stop being Argentine.”

Consequently, Messi is happy that he is no longer copping as much flak from his countrymen.

“Before, there was a lot of criticism and everything was bad,” he explained. “And now it's not like that.

“That's good, because every country I go to, people have always received me very well, and in my own country that wasn't happening.”

At both club and international level, Messi’s form is constantly being compared to that of Cristiano Ronaldo.

There is a school of thought that the pair’s rivalry brings the best out of both players, but the South American attacker does not see it like that.

“I don't think so,” he mused. “I never really fixated on him, or compared myself with another player.

“My mentality is just to achieve more each year, to grow both as an individual and as a team, and if he wasn't there, I'd be doing the same thing.

“I think he's a good person. I think he's a good player, who brings a lot to Real Madrid, and who, in any moment, can decide a game.

“But I care about how Madrid are doing because they're competing against us, and they're in La Liga, and because almost every year, we compete for the title.

“But [comparing myself] against Ronaldo, no.”

Messi has won the Ballon d'Or for the past three years and currently boasts a record of 141 goals in 196 La Liga games for Barca.

Starting in November and continuing through to the middle of February, is publishing exclusive extracts from Graham Hunter's highly-anticipated new book, 'Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World'. Friday's extract looks at how Barca suffered rare disappointment at the hands of Real Madrid in a gripping finale to last season's Copa del Rey. Don't miss it!