Famously (and painfully) shy, FC Barcelona’s superstar striker Lionel Messi, who appears on the cover of this week’s TIME International, was visibly uncomfortable for much of his interview with me and Lisa Abend. But he did begin to relax toward the end of the interview, when I asked him about his pastimes. Once described as a “PlayStation player” because of his sometimes otherworldly skills on the field, Messi revealed that he himself spent a lot of time playing video games. And what games, exactly? You guessed it: soccer.
I jokingly asked if, when choosing his team in a video-soccer game, he automatically chose “Messi.” The Argentine answered, with a straight face: “Of course. How else can I win?”
That fierce competitive drive manifests itself in other ways, too. Messi is known to storm off after losing even a practice game at the FC Barcelona training grounds. “You can see it in me when we’ve lost,” he said. “I’m in a bad way. I don’t like to talk to anyone. I just retreat into myself and go over the game in my head: the things that went wrong, what I did wrong, why we didn’t win.” But the black moods don’t last long. Messi says he recovers when there’s another game. “Luckily we play a lot, so it happens quickly.”
He also gets photographed a lot but, unlike many modern sports superstars, he remains wary of the camera. Asked about his favorite picture of himself, he replied: “None.”
Although he was totally cooperative with photographer Joachim Ladefoged, following his instructions without protest, it was clear Messi wasn’t enjoying the experience. I asked him which he hated less, “being photographed or being interviewed?”
For a moment, Messi’s guard was down, and he grinned broadly. “Neither,” he said.
Joachim Ladefoged is a photographer represented by VII agency. See more of his work here.
Bobby Ghosh is the deputy international editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @ghoshworld.