HOW MARADONA HELPED CROWN MESSI AS THE FREE-KICK KING

Daily Mail - - Football - PETE JENSON

LIONEL MESSI’S mas­tery of the art of the free-kick comes not just from his ge­nius, but from hours of prac­tice af­ter train­ing and the in­flu­ence of Diego Maradona. Fer­nando Sig­norini was the fit­ness coach for Ar­gentina at the 2010 World Cup and in his bi­og­ra­phy Call to Re­bel­lion he sheds light on Maradona’s part in Messi’s de­vel­op­ment as the ul­ti­mate set-piece spe­cial­ist. ‘In Fe­bru­ary 2009, just a few months af­ter Maradona took over as coach of the na­tional team, we played a friendly against a lo­cal team in Mar­seille,’ Sig­norini writes. ‘We prac­tised the day be­fore and, af­ter the ses­sion, Javier Mascher­ano, Car­los Tevez and Messi stayed be­hind for shoot­ing prac­tice. ‘Messi put the ball down and looked up at the goal slightly to his left. When he struck the ball it went some way over the bar to the goal­keeper’s right. He was an­noyed and headed to­wards the dress­ing room pass­ing me as he went. ‘I said, “Are you go­ing to go and shower af­ter that rub­bish? Stop get­ting an­noyed, go and get a ball and try again”.’ Sig­norini says Maradona (be­low, left) over­heard the con­ver­sa­tion, put his arm around Messi’s shoul­der and em­barked on a tu­to­rial, telling Messi: ‘Don’t hurry the shot so much, slow your swing down, be­cause if not the ball does not know what you want it to do.’ Maradona demon­strated by promptly plant­ing the ball in the top cor­ner with Messi look­ing on ad­mir­ingly. Daily free-kick prac­tice ses­sions af­ter train­ing be­came part of Messi’s rou­tine at Ar­gentina and Barcelona. Cur­rent Barcelona keepers Marc An­dre ter Ste­gen and Jasper Cil­lessen are his vic­tims day in, day out, at the club’s Joan Gam­per train­ing ground. ‘You have to prac­tise,’ Messi told Marca last year. ‘It’s train­ing and habit, like any other skill.’

GETTY IM­AGES

Un­stop­pable: Messi bends his free-kick past Alis­son at the Nou Camp

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