Even the most ardent of the anti-Messi gang have abandoned their mistaken stance

messi 300x225 Even the most ardent of the anti Messi gang have abandoned their mistaken stance

Messi celebrates a goal for Argentina

It seems unbelievable given the adulation he has received all over the world, but Lionel Messi has not always been universally loved in his own country. For many in Argentina, Messi was not one of them; he was a child of Barcelona, raised abroad and lacking in sufficient nationalistic zeal.

His doubters objected to him not singing the national anthem, claimed he saved his best performances for his Catalan employers and even in some quarters mistrusted the fact that, Newell’s Old Boys youth team aside, he had never formally represented one of Argentina’s passionately supported clubs.

The criticism was of course unfair, as anyone who saw the effort he put in for Argentina would testify. Removed from a Barcelona side set up to get the best out of him and without the aid of two of world football’s best midfielders, Messi was always going to struggle to replicate his stellar performances, particularly while under the haphazard management of Diego Maradona and then Sergio Batista.

However following his recent games in the light blue and white stripes of Argentina, even the most ardent of the anti-Messi gang have abandoned their mistaken stance. Their diminutive captain has scored 14 goals in his last 12 games, including two hat-tricks, and Argentina are flying high at the top of the South American World Cup qualification table.

Things are certainly looking promising for the Albiceleste who, after an early loss to the vastly improved Venezuela, are unbeaten in their last seven competitive fixtures, including important wins against Uruguay and Chile in the last round of qualifiers.

Admittedly they are far from being the complete team and big questions remain in their defence, in particular on the flanks, where Argentina’s seemingly never-ending search for the next Javier Zanetti continues. Even the dependable Pablo Zabaleta struggled in their last game and Argentina were very fortunate to survive a ferocious early onslaught from Chile without conceding. If they are to have any chance of challenging for the World Cup in 2014, then this is one area that needs serious work.

However elsewhere Argentina look a formidable opposition. Alejandro Sabella has decided, it seems, to move away from the more cautious approach he adopted earlier in qualifying by playing Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Messi all in the same side, as well as the attack-minded Angel Di Maria.

Messi and Aguero always seem to play with a great natural understanding of each other’s play and combined with the more physical attributes of Higuain up front, Argentina finally appear to have found a system that allows all of their deadliest attacking threats to be on the pitch at one time and they are thriving because of it.

The three men in midfield deserve credit as well, because they are providing the platform that allows Argentina’s attacking triumvirate to flourish in front of them. Javier Mascherano has been his usual belligerent self, while Fernando Gago also appears to be getting back to his best, setting up Argentina’s opener against Chile with an exquisite long pass that picked out Messi. Even Angel Di Maria, who despite his undisputed talent has at times been frustratingly inconsistent and selfish in an Argentina shirt, is showing signs of improvement. Not only did he play the ball that set up Higuain’s wonder-goal in the last match, but almost more importantly he saved a certain goal when tracking all the way back to make a last ditch tackle.

While there is clearly a long way to go until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with just over half of their qualification games played and with arguably one of the greatest players in history a part of their side and at his inspirational and influential best, Argentina are beginning to look like real contenders.

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  • sloflo

    This whole “Messi isn’t loved in his own country” is absolute rubbish invented by the media who are looking for stories. I am Argentine and Messi is adored in Argentina. Some idiot writing it in an obscure magazine doesn’t represent the view of the country. Messi has been our outstanding player of the past four years and every football fan watches Barcelona games because they are proud of him. The few instances where the fans jeered the team it was meant for the shambolic state of the whole team, not just Messi. Even Maradona was criticized prior to the 86 world cup. We are not idiots, we know Messi refused to play for Spain and chose Argentina, we know he loves his country and we know he’s the best in the world. The only reason we have hope of winning anything is because we have him.

  • ShiningBlueMoon

    Both the dramatic improvement in Lionel Messi’s impact on the Argentina team and the belated appreciation of him in Argentina have much to do with the demise of Carlos Tevez in his own country. Over the years, Tevez and his remarkable publicity machine have orchestrated media campaigns overtly pressuring successive managers into favouring him and, less overtly, promoting the contrast between ‘el Apache’ and the ‘child of Barcelona’.

    Whilst I have not been able to watch regularly Argentina’s matches, I have no difficulty accepting that “Messi and (Sergio) Aguero always seem to play with a great natural understanding of each other’s play”. In contrast, having watched all Manchester City’s games, I submit that the common assertion that Tevez and Aguero exhibit a natural understanding is a media myth based on the ludicrous logic that “they are both small and from Argentina so ….”.

    Football writers, pundits and TV (co-)commentators should study carefully the way Tevez actually behaves on a football field. His first instinct is to run towards the ball, whether to harry an opponent in possession or to demand the ball from a teammate. This can be very endearing (just before the 2010 World Cup, I wanted to name our new puppy Tevez but fortunately my wife would not agree); certainly, in an average side, his work rate can inspire lesser players around him. But, alongside great players, his essential selfishness and his competitiveness with fellow strikers becomes a huge issue. In particular, an unusually high proportion of his passes are delivered in the expectation that the recipient will pass back to him. A classic recent example came in the game against Real Madrid. Not long after Edin Dzeko had scored an excellent goal, City had a break in which Tevez could have passed to Dzeko who was completely clear on his right. Instead, Tevez passed to Alex Kolarov on his left on the implicit understanding that the latter would provide a cross for himself to score (Kolarov did but Tevez didn’t). Much as I hope not, the failure to pass to Dzeko could be one of the decisive moments of City’s season.

    As a City fan, my main concern for this season has been – and still is – that Aguero will somehow be ’sidelined’ by Tevez. Commentators, obsessed with the media caricature of Tevez, will express puzzlement as to why Aguero is less effective than last season when he now has Tevez to play with. Possibly a few – such as the ever-impressive Gary Neville – may see the truth.

  • Rajesh

    A lot of credit for this should go to Sabella who have understood the fact that Messi is not just a goal scorer but with many other qualities which could be easily utilised by providing him with understanding players around. Note how Tabarez commented, just before the Uruguay match, that he is concerned more about stopping Messi from helping his team mates to score.

    Another important factor is lack of some players like Tevez, Burdisson etc in this team.Absence of Tevez is a big factor. I really hope he never gets back to even the bench. The chemistry between the present set of players, most of them played together for the youth WC and Olympics, are wonderful and Sabella manage to build on it.

  • Jean des Esseintes

    I disagree. I lived in Argentina for several years and while yes Messi is obviously adored by the majority of Argentina (understandably given what a fantastic player he is), there was always a small vocal minority who were quick to blame Messi when things were going wrong for Argentina even when it was clear that the problems lay elsewhere. I have also even heard real Messi fans complaining about the fact that he doesn’t sing the national anthem.

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