MADRID (AFP) - Barcelona star Lionel Messi, the favourite to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award on Monday, has hit back at critics in his native Argentina who are angered over his failure to translate his club form to the international stage.
The Argentine media have suggested the striker does not show the same enthusiasm when he plays for the national team as when he hits the pitch for the Catalan side, which he joined at the age of 13 as a youth team player.
"It really gets me when they say I do not feel the Albiceleste. Nothing hurts me more than when they say I am not Argentine," he said in an interview with daily El Pais, using the Spanish name for the Argentine national team.
"It does not bother me when they call me 'the Catalan' but it really bugs me that they think I am not Argentine," the 22-year-old added.
Messi clinched an extra-time winner as Barcelona beat Estudiantes 2-1 Saturday to win the Club World Cup final, the European champions' sixth trophy of the year.
Minutes after he hit the winner for Barcelona, fans took to the streets in the Argentine province of La Plata where Estudiantes is based to protest against the player, Argentine daily newspaper Clarin reported.
The fans left insulting graffiti against Messi on walls throughout the province and chanted "Messi is no Argentine", it said.
Messi told El Pais that the Club World Cup win was one of his best moments of the year.
"It is much better than an individual prize because it is a collective prize that makes many people happy," he said.
Messi was awarded the Ballon d'Or award for the European player of the year earlier this month, winning the prize by the biggest percentage of votes since it was created in 1956.
He joined Barcelona from Newell's Old Boys which is based in Rosario, Argentina in 2000.
In September the player signed a two-year contract extension which will keep him at the club until 2016. The deal increased his buy-out clause to 250 million euros from 150 million euros.
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