Commentary

Why Lionel Messi must play in Copa Centenario

Lionel Messi says he'd trade his five Ballons d'Or for one World Cup trophy. The Argentine was, of course, hypothetically speaking at the pre-FIFA awards gala on Monday before he was awarded a fifth golden ball as the world's best player.

But he could win a sixth, seventh or eighth Ballon d'Or in the next three years and he'd still be considered the second best player Argentina has ever produced, behind Diego Maradona, if he doesn't lead Argentina to a World Cup title.

Despite all his success at Barcelona -- seven La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League trophies, among other things -- Argentines are divided about Messi. Many criticize his nonchalant attitude that contrasts with Maradona's fiery demeanor. The biggest insult you can call an Argentine soccer player is that he plays without passion, and Messi is often labeled a "pecho frio" (literally translated "chest cold").

It's been said Argentines don't relate to Messi because they consider him somehow less Argentine, his having moved to Barcelona with his family for soccer (and growth hormone treatments) when he was 13. The year was 2001, which happened to mark the great depression in Argentina with riots and civil unrest. Many Argentines fled the country. And some of those who stayed look jealously at Messi for what he accomplished after he left.

All would probably be forgotten if Messi could bring home a championship. Argentina lost in the final of the 2014 World Cup to Germany and in the final of the 2015 Copa America to host Chile on penalty kicks. Those failures haunt Messi.

After the Copa America final, the columnist for the Argentine sports daily Ole ripped Messi, blaming the him for the loss. "He didn't deserve the captain's armband, " wrote Leo Farinella. "The best player in the world doesn't represent us at the most important moments."

Messi's response? "We had the good fortunate of making it to the final of the World Cup and Copa America. It isn't like we accomplished nothing. We're open to criticism, but we didn't lose in the round of 16, we lost in the final."

The concern is that Messi will quit the national team, but Argentines must be careful what they wish for. Luis Cesar Menotti, who coached Argentina to the 1978 World Cup title, says Messi must be protected. "Without him," Menotti says, "Argentina won't qualify for the World Cup."

Argentina got a taste of what it is like without Messi last fall when he was injured. La Albiceleste opened World Cup 2018 qualifying with three games without a win, its worst start ever in World Cup qualifying, before beating Colombia, 1-0, on the road.

Argentina has not won a major championship since 1993. Its best chance could come this summer when it travels to the United States for the Copa Centenario.

Many South American federations, gutted by the Federal indictments, might struggle convincing their top players to spent another summer with their respective national teams.

If anyone deserves a summer off -- the Copa Centenario would be his third straight summer spent playing for Argentina -- it's Messi.

But he'll have a great incentive to represent Argentina this summer and get the monkey off his back.
5 comments about "Why Lionel Messi must play in Copa Centenario".
  1. Gonzalo Munevar, January 13, 2016 at 12:03 a.m.

    "Cold breast," not "chest cold."

  2. Michael Hopcroft, January 13, 2016 at 12:26 a.m.

    Can Messi play from in prison? because that's where he might be headed if some of the allegations against himself and his father hold up in criminal court. Laundering dryg cartel money is not the sort of activity football should be tolerating.

    Admittedly, there is a lot of behavior it does tolerate that is also troubling. But if the reports are true Messi is either amoral or astonishingly naive -- and I'm inclined against naive.

  3. Carlos Figueroa replied, January 13, 2016 at 10:09 a.m.

    From what I've read, he was "deliberately ignorant", allowing his father to make money off Leo's name. Leo is where he is in large part thanks to his father, it's only natural for him to turn a blind eye to his father's questionable practices.

  4. Vince Leone replied, January 13, 2016 at 2:39 p.m.

    Don't forget that the charges against Messi originate in Madrid. Given the corruption in the Spanish government and the tensions between Madrid and Barcelona in politics, economics, sport, etc., I would recommend some skepticism about the charges.

  5. I w Nowozeniuk, January 13, 2016 at 5:55 p.m.

    Messi's support on the Argentine team is quite dismal. If Maradona, the proven cheat, played on today's national team, he would have the same problem. As for being named captain of the squad, that was a big mistake.

    M.H., you cherry pick the tabloids? It sounds like you're the judge and the jury ready to exploit "drug money" allegations. You're either a bad lawyer or ignorant, perhaps both.

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