Lionel Messi made his first appearance for Barcelona since returning from summer vacation on Wednesday night against Italian giant AS Roma in the annual Joan Gamper Trophy showcase. It’s great to see him back to his scoring and creating best.
He is probably happy to be home, too -- that is, in Barcelona, not Argentina. As you might have heard, the Albiceleste captain came under a great deal of criticism once again for his performances for his country this summer, as Argentina lost the Copa America final to Chile on penalties after 120 scoreless minutes.
Messi was nearly anonymous in the game, and in truth, it wasn’t the best of tournaments for the Barcelona superstar on paper, either, as he finished with just one goal and three assists in six games.
After the Copa final, Argentine legend Diego Maradona, who coached Messi & co to a quarterfinal finish at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, led the jeer-leading, feeding the ongoing debate about why Messi can’t seem to reproduce his Barca form for his country, by saying: “We have the best in the world, who scores four against Real Sociedad and then comes here and does nothing. I’ve had enough of those who say that we have to look after him.”
As the debate raged over social media, a report emerged from Argentine paper Ole claiming that the Barca star was tired of being criticized for his national team performances and was therefore thinking about taking a break from international duty. Other reports then claimed that that story was a fabrication, and that Leo remains committed to proving his doubters wrong by continuing with Argentina.
And yet, for all the talk, the man himself has not said anything publicly about the matter -- after all, he has been on vacation. But, apparently, he hasn’t said anything to Albiceleste coach Gerardo Martino, either.
In fact, in an interview with Fox Sports Argentina on Wednesday, Martino asserted, “If I was Messi, I would have left the national team some time ago and I would keep playing in Barcelona.” He continued: “I will call him up [for the friendly with Mexico on Sept. 8] but I don’t know whether he will come. It would be very frustrating if he didn’t.”
The former Barca coach added that he is completely in the dark about the hiatus rumors, too: “Nobody said that Leo would not play the friendlies. This was claimed, I don’t know why, and now we have to explain that there is nothing behind it. This didn’t come from the mouth of Messi, from my mouth or from the mouth of the president of the Argentine football Association.”
You have to wonder what, exactly, Martino is trying to achieve by saying that the world’s greatest player should stop playing for the national team that he coaches.
Now, Off The Post is not a mind reader, but he is somewhat familiar with the popular Argentine sport of line-drawing, or rather, making it clear where one stands through the use of rhetoric. It seems the Albiceleste coach here is saying here he is actually very much Team Messi, and that those who criticize the great man’s exertions for his country simply do not deserve him.
He is absolutely right, of course.
Messi, no matter how tall the pedestal is that we put him on, is but one man on a field containing 22 players, and Argentina’s crybabies, frustrated though they may be with their team’s lack of silverware, need to take a giant step back and realize a couple of things before they criticize him any further. After all, Barcelona is comprised of different players than Argentina, and these players get to play together far less often. Moreover, it also has a different coach who deploys different tactics, too.
As ESPN contributor Alejandro Caravario points out in his very succinct analysis of Argentina’s Copa America, “the national team, a national team that theoretically revolves around [Messi], tends to abandon him at key moments.”
Indeed, even a player of Messi’s undoubted greatness cannot always do it alone. Yet, he is asked to by Argentina far too often. The South American giant’s last two tournaments have been more about keeping the ball from going in the back of its own net than supporting Messi in attack. As a result, he is often very isolated, especially in big games against talented attacking teams like Germany or Chile.
Barca, on the other hand, always supports Messi in attack because, among other things, its coaches know that these players were raised on possessing the ball and never letting it go. The Catalan outfit has never been the best defensive team, but it also hasn’t had to be because of its offense-is-the-best-defense philosophy. And now, with Neymar and Luis Suarez assisting Messi up top, Barca can score goals from open play in any number of ways, from unrelenting possession to quick and deadly counter-attacks.
So, if the Argentine public really wants a scapegoat here -- and OTP bets they do -- they should really blame the last two national team coaches, Alejandro Sabella and now Martino, for, as Caravario says, abandoning Messi. No matter how great the greatest player in the world is, he cannot win trophies for you unless your tactics support him.