Lainez Welcomes "Mexican Messi" Nickname

Reuters

 

GOAL

 

Diego Lainez has expressed his joy at finishing in the top 10 of this year's NxGn and says he has no issue with his giddy fans labelling him 'The Mexican Messi'.

The 18-year-old winger ranked eighth in Goal's annual list of the world's best Under-19s, after a remarkable and rapid rise to prominence.

Lainez helped America win the Liga MX Apertura last December, just three months after making his international debut for El Tri.

 

Then, in January, he was snapped up by Betis, who paid €14 million (£12.2m/$15.8m) to beat off stiff competition from other European sides for a player repeatedly compared to Messi because of his size, fantastic left foot and silky skills.

Lainez is flattered by such talk as he says the Argentine has always been a role model for him and he even got a photo with the Barcelona captain after Sunday's game at the Benito Villamarin.

The plan now is to learn as much as possible from facing Messi – who hit a stunning hat-trick against Betis – and the rest of Liga's international superstars.

"This is what this competition offers; you get to face top teams and players," Lainez, who set up Loren Moren's consolation goal against Barca, tells Goal after receiving his NxGn award.

"That helps you to keep growing as player and that’s why, for me, La Liga is one of the best two leagues in the world.

"From the best players, you always have to take good things, so I try to add their attributes to my game."

 

As for 'The Mexican Messi' moniker, Lainez is diplomatic, saying he takes it as a compliment rather than an unwelcome burden.

"I think Mexican fans are really passionate," he says, smiling, "but I like this!

"I'm just really happy to see Mexican fans supporting Mexican players who are here trying to realise our dreams.

"I've always said that I like positive comments about me because this means you're doing well.

"So, I'm very happy to receive prizes like [NxGn] because this is another sign that I’m doing well."

Betis are certainly happy with how their January purchase is progressing.

 

Unsurprisingly, the youngster is being carefully managed by Quique Setien but Lainez has already endeared himself to the club's supporters with his last-minute equaliser in a Europa League clash with Rennes in February.

"It was something that I won’t forget," Lainez enthuses. "It's always pleasing to score goals but this was something special.

"Things are going really well so far. I'm enjoying the way we work and I think I'm improving each day, in each training session.

"I hope to continue in this manner and just want to keep learning from all the awesome players that there are here.

"It is also a challenge playing for Setien. He is a coach who likes to keep the ball, really tactical.

"But I like this, I share his ideas on the game and this will help me to keep growing as a player.

"I haven’t played a lot in the last few matches but, since I arrived, I think I have played many minutes overall. Besides, this is part of football but the first year is always like this.

"But I’m pleased with the amount of game time I've had and when I have played, it's gone well."

 

Certainly, Lainez has no regrets about his bold decision to leave Mexico at such a young age.

"I think it was something I wanted and needed to keep improving as footballer," he explains.

"I've wanted to do it for some time. I think it was important for me and my development, to work in this kind of environment.

"I’m really happy, too, because America supported my decision and I'm also grateful to Betis for giving me this opportunity.

"In the end, I think Betis' project was the one which I liked the most, both from a footballing and lifestyle perspective.

"And now I'm very happy to be here and just want to give my best for Betis. I want to keep growing; the rest will take care of itself.

"But I certainly want to win a trophy with Betis. Our first goal is to qualify to Europe, though. We're working to finish as high as possible in La Liga.

"As for my own short-term goals, they're just to keep growing, on the pitch and as a person, which I think is really important.

"Long term, I'd like to play in a World Cup or Gold Cup for Mexico, and hopefully win things with Betis."