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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Review: "Messi" by Leonardo Faccio (Translated by Cecilia Molinari)

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"By accepting this interview, Messi has deprived himself of a ritual he has maintained since his childhood. Every day, after soccer practice at the club, he eats and goes to sleep, awakening two to three hours later. Messi normally doesn't interrupt his routine. The siesta, to him, is like a ceremony whose purpose has changed with time."

--- Leonardo Faccio, author of "Messi," pages 7-8, published in 2012 by Anchor Sports, a division of Random House, with a list price of $12.95.

This book was expertly translated by Cecilia Molinari from the original Spanish.

Organized Structure

The book is written in three parts with 15 chapters that span the years 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively. You will learn about Messi's life in Argentina; however, the book is not presented in chronological order. There is a heavy emphasis on Messi's time at the fabled La Masia youth training academy of FC Barcelona where the author noted that only 10 percent ever make it to the senior team.

The author's writing style is precise, engaging, along with an intriguing journalistic story-telling quality that holds your attention and leaves you wanting more. This book was originally written in Spanish; however, the translation was quite good in its own right. Especially to bring to light soccer-specific terminology.

The author conducted interviews with people close to Messi, such as his father, brother, grandparents, first agent, along with Argentinean national team teammate, Juan Sebastian Veron. Others, such as his elementary school teacher in Rosario, Argentina, and a computer science teacher at the famous youth academy, La Masia in Barcelona, add significant detail to the Messi mystique.
Comfortable On the Pitch; Uncomfortable Off of It

It might surprise readers how the author portrays the world's best footballer. Messi is shown from a young age as lazy, slow, polite, extremely shy, at times petulant, and one who prefers sleep over social interaction. The author notes that Messi seems uninterested in anything, except his Blackberry, that does not involve a round ball.

Faccio describes Messi as someone who would likely be unnoticed in life if not for his sublime skills on a soccer pitch. This observation by his former computer science teacher, Ruben Bonastre, who taught Messi how to use a computer and send email at La Masia in Barcelona, was intriguingly prescient:

"He was here, but it was as if he weren't. But the Messi in the computer class was not the same Messi on a field full of soccer balls. The paradox is that I met with his soccer coaches and they spoke so highly of him. So you ask yourself: 'How is it that he enters the field with such self-confidence, yet lacks it in real life?' " (Page 50 )

According to the author, Messi, a lover of email with his Blackberry, has never sent one to his former teacher...

An Advertising Innovator

" 'I asked him to aim at the camera and kick." The kick isn't simple; Messi's foot hurts and the director is only interested in getting the star to perform well for the take... 'I asked him if he were capable of making the shot.' What annoyed Messi was that question." (Page 96)

According to the author, Messi created a soccer advertising industry that didn't exist:

"Messi opened up a teenage market that was previously non-existent within the professional soccer industry. It was the first time two sports brands (adidas and Nike) competed with each other for a soccer player, and the highest bidder won." Page 102

Messi also earns the bulk of his annual salary from endorsements and advertising contracts:

"In 2010, for the first time ever, a team of soccer players earned more than the New York Yankees, and Messi had the highest salary in the group: He earned 33 million euros, and only a third of that came from his soccer stipend. " Page 38

Breaking the Veil of Privacy

One facet of this book that I didn't like was sharing too much of Messi's private life. This was not an autobiography, and the author provided second or third-party accounts of Messi's previously not aired dirty laundry. It's one thing if the protagonist authorized it (Mr. Faccio noted Messi's penchant for privacy); however, this part of the author's narrative seemed more salacious than informative. I felt that it detracted from the otherwise quality reporting in this book. For an example, the following quote by Gabriela Vitale, a friend of Messi whom he met via Juan Veron:

"He prefers to be seen as dumb rather than horny. One can never see his desperate face. He is like a fifteen-year-old kid. Mischievous yet embarrassed." Page 117

No Pictures

Except for the front cover, there were no pictures in this book. Pictures with Messi's friends, family and teammates over the years would have given this work more of a personal touch.

A Sensitive Man

Messi has rarely been interviewed at length in his footballing career. If you ask most fans to describe him, they would be hard-pressed to mention anything that isn't soccer-related. We seem to only know him via his wonderful goals. The author did show a rare glimpse into his true persona with the following quote:

"It hurt me to come to my country and hear that people said I felt nothing for our jersey. Then I went to Barcelona, where I did everything fine and people loved me." 

--- Lionel Messi in an interview with Marcello Sottile of Ole' at World Cup 2010, Page 78.

Juan Veron, his teammate on the Argentinean national team, had the following observation after rooming with Messi for 40 days in South Africa:

"He always needs to play and win. He's always looking for an incentive. I know his moods, his faces, and when he's annoyed. When he asks for silence, we must respect that." (Page 49)

Other Notable Quotes

"Maradona, who trained him in the Argentina national team, said that getting Messi to answer his phone was harder than interviewing God." Page 12

"Messi used to keep his ampoules filled with growth hormone in his best friend's refrigerator. He had to take them with him when he slept over. Lucas Scaglia saw him inject himself more than once... He did it alone. In silence. He didn't cry." Page 18

"Juan Brau, the physical therapist who is by his side wherever in the world he may be, says that one way to understand him is to observe the position of his head. When he lowers it, it is if he is hanging a sign that says DO NOT DISTURB." Page 33

"Messi still cries when he loses." Page 34

"Messi's extreme concentration when he has a ball at his feet makes him seem isolated from the world." Page 44

"The frequency of movements he has on the field is higher than Maradona. Keeping the ball so close to the foot requires an incredibly high pace. I don't know how he does it... You see him warming up and he's as calm as a kid who's going to play on the field around the corner." Fernando Signorini, Messi's personal trainer, on page 56.

"He never changes. When he had enough money to buy a Ferrari, he bought a gray Mini Cooper." Rodolfo Schinocca, his first agent, on page 102.

Not a Student but A Teacher

Leo Messi was never a good student, but ironically, his classroom is a rectangular pitch of green grass where he provides weekly lessons to opponents and millions of the rest of us around the world. As the author concisely noted, "Leo Messi is a flea but most definitely not a parasite. He moves a ball as if it has been sewn to his foot and forgets the rest of the world until he scores a goal." (Page 70)

About the Author

Leonardo Faccio was born in Buenos Aires in 1971, and has spent the last ten years living in Barcelona, where he writes for various publications, including El Periódico and Etiqueta Negra. Winner of the highly regarded award for Spanish journalism given by the Gabriel García Márquez Iberoamerican Foundation for New Journalism, he was not a fan of soccer until he first learned of Lionel Messi.

Text courtesy of Barnes & Noble.

About the Translator

Cecilia Molinari, born in Los Angeles to Argentine parents, grew up in both the United States and Argentina. Both of these cultures, languages, and countries are ever present in her life and her work. With this unique ability to fully understand these two worlds, she embarked on her publishing journey after college, which took her through the realms of Houghton Mifflin Publishing and HarperCollins Publishers as a full-time employee, and other publishers, including Random House and Simon & Schuster, as a freelance editor.

Text courtesy of CeciliaMolinari.com.

Please Note

I did not receive a complimentary review copy from the publisher nor was I compensated by any party who would benefit from a positive review.
Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and The Soccer Translator since 2008. You can follow Steve @worldfootballcm on Twitter. 

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