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'He’s never changed' - Banega insists Messi is the same as he was as a child

15:20 SAST 2019/11/17
Lionel Messi Ever Banega Argentina 2018
The Sevilla midfielder, who is a lifelong friend of the Barca star, insists all of his success, fame and glory has not altered his character

Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega says Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi has not changed since he was child despite his glittering playing career.

Banega and Messi both grew up in the Argentine city of Rosario and played youth football alongside each other before Banega’s move to Boca Juniors’ academy as a 13-year-old in 2000.

Messi moved to Barcelona a year later, but the pair have remained close friends, particularly when Banega followed him to Spain in 2008 as he signed for Valencia.

Messi’s on-field behaviour has been brought into question in recent days, with Brazil coach Tite revealing the Argentina captain told him to “shut his mouth” during a fiery friendly between the two great rivals in Riyadh on Friday.

Brazil skipper Thiago Silva also weighed in, accusing Messi of trying to control the game by influencing the referee’s decisions.

The Paris Saint-Germain defender also suggested that the referee favoured Messi because of his reputation, something he believes the striker also benefits from in La Liga.

Banega, however, has defended Messi’s character, saying he has not changed since he was a boy and revealing they regularly reminisce about life back home in Rosario whenever they get the chance to meet.

“In all honesty, he’s never changed,” Banega told Goal. “Whenever we meet we have a hug and we don’t talk about football, we talk about our families and how we are.”

When asked whether Messi is the best player he has played with, he added: "Yes, I don't think there is another one. Look at everything he has done and during that time he has stayed among the best. I think he is the best.”

Banega also insists he is calm about his future despite being out of contract at the end of the season.

The 31-year-old has not ruled out a return to Argentina one day, but says his immediate future remains in Spain.

“I have not said anything (about a new contract)," he said. "I am calm because the truth is that I am very comfortable at the club and I am not in a hurry.

“I am very happy here. I've been here for many years, my family is fine, my daughters were born here and a return (to Argentina) is a long way off.”