You’re very careful about your diet now. Is there anything you miss eating?

There’s been a lot said about my diet but the change wasn’t as great as people made out. I eat the same as I used to, although there are some things that I now eat that I didn’t then, like fish. Most of it is the same, though.

You set-up a lot of goals these days, as well as scoring them. Has your game changed? Were you more individualistic before, more of a “chupón” [ball hog]?

I have never considered myself greedy or a ball hog, even if some people thought I was. I have grown as a player and learnt from those people who tried to help me improve.

How do you live with the pressure of your position, with the fame and the constant eulogies? Are you self-critical?

Yes, very. I’m more critical with myself than anyone else is. I know when I have done well and when I have done badly. I don’t need anyone to tell me. I just look at what I did on the pitch and I know; I don’t need to be told anything else.

When you get the ball, do you think about your options or is your game more spontaneous?

I always try to do what I think is the best thing to head towards the opposition’s goal and from there it all comes naturally.

Beyond the footballing aspects of your game, do you work physically? Do you spend a lot of time in the gym?  

I work on my weak points to try to prevent injuries and to always be at my best. I look after myself, but it’s not like I spend my whole life in the gym. I’m not a fan.

What can you learn from your team-mates? Do any of them have skills you envy? Xavi, for example…  

He’s a great player. He never loses the ball, he has great vision and reads the game, he controls the rhythm and pace..

And Andres Iniesta? 

He’s similar. Maybe Andres has more goalscoring ability, he gets into the area more, arriving from deeper. But they’re similar. Andres has great vision too and when he is on form the team revolves round him. When he and Xavi are both on the pitch it’s hard for the other team to get the ball.

You seem to be dropping ever deeper and getting more and more involved in the development of the games, not
just in the penalty area. Is that a conscious change?

It depends on the game. I drop deeper to come into contact with the ball more and try to start up the moves from further back, combining with the midfielders. But it always depends on the game. I’m not just another midfielder, I do what the team needs in every moment.

It’s said that when you lose a game, even just in training, the best thing to do is not even to try to talk to you. Are you really such a bad loser?

The same as anyone in the dressing room. When you lose you get wound up and that’s a good thing because we all want to win, even in training. That means that our hunger for success doesn’t drop.

Have you become a leader since the departure of Pep Guardiola?

I’m the same as before. Everyone knows their role and this group doesn’t need a leader as such because of the kind of people that there are in the dressing room. I still play the same role as always.

Your next challenge will be the World Cup in Brazil…

Yes. Winning a World Cup is the ultimate prize and in Brazil it would be even greater.

Pele, Diego Maradona, people are saying you may even be the best player of all time…

I try to improve every day. If people compare me to players like that, players who were greats and are still talked about today after they have retired, then that’s lovely. But I don’t think about that. I think about improving all the time and at the end of my career I’ll think about what I did. Then let people judge.

You have just become a father for the first time. What if your son, Thiago, becomes a River Plate fan or a Rosario Central fan?

I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Would you want him to become a footballer?

I want him to be what he wants to be. When he grows up he’ll get a feel for what he wants to do. I’ll be happy with that and so will his mum.

Interview by Sid Lowe/ESM

Part one of this interview