Messi never considered representing Spain

Despite joining Barcelona's youth academy aged 13, Lionel Messi never thought about changing allegiance from Argentina to Spain.

Argentina forward Lionel Messi   -  Getty Images

Lionel Messi insists he only ever had designs on playing international football for Argentina and was not tempted to represent Spain.

The Barcelona star has endured a mixed relationship with Argentina's support throughout his international career, with the fact he left home for Catalonia aged 13 sometimes used to argue he lacks true commitment to the cause.

Nevertheless, La Albiceleste are unquestionably indebted to their record goalscorer, whose sensational hat-trick against Ecuador last October salvaged qualification for Russia 2018.

"The other day I was talking to a friend and he was saying, 'Look, if you had stayed with Spain, you would be world champion,'" Messi explained, having watched his Barca academy colleagues Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Gerard Pique lead a glorious era for La Roja.

"But it would not have been the same. Obviously, it never crossed my mind.

Messi suffered final heartbreak with Argentina in three consecutive years as Germany's extra-time win in the 2014 World Cup showpiece was followed by penalty shoot-out reverses against Chile in the Copa America in 2015 and 2016.

Gonzalo Higuain was made a scapegoat for those losses in some quarters following a string of high-profile misses, but Messi reported the Juventus striker is in high spirits ahead of Russia 2018.

"He is very relaxed, aware of what is coming, he is very involved," he added.

"He said a great truth - it is a new opportunity, more than a rematch.

"This group had too many criticisms. We reached three finals, but we received a lot of criticism. We became stronger than ever."