Messi wears Argentine heart on sleeve

AFP, Tuesday 5 Apr 2011

Barcelona star Lionel Messi said Tuesday he could never imagine playing for world champions Spain, despite living in the country since his formative years


Messi came to Barca in 2000 and hence has spent half his life outside Argentina - yet 'la pulga' (flea) told that he would always be Argentinian.

"I would never have chosen to play for Spain because I am Argentinian. It is true that Spain has treated me very well.

"Let's not forget that I have spent almost as many years living in Barcelona as in Argentina and that leaves you with divided loyalties - but it doesn't change your true colours," said the man who has already won 13 major honours in the game, including the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

He added he could not understand the criticism of his absence from last week's goalless friendly with the Costa Ricans in San Jose.

The 23-year-old missed the match with a leg injury and that went down badly with Costa Rican fans who had expected him to be the star attraction.

"I want to be clear that there was no pressure of any kind from Barcelona (not to play). I couldn't play as I had pulled a leg muscle and I don't understand the reason for such a storm," said Messi.

Asked if he had divided loyalties between club and country he said: "I love the national side but I also love my club."

After a season finale in which he hopes to lead Barca to another Spanish Liga and Champions League title Messi will turn his focus to the Copa America, where he hopes to lead his country to glory on home soil.

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