Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in Portugal’s first game against Spain. The onus laid on Lionel Messi to replicate or even do better. Against a spirited Iceland side, Messi was halted albeit by excellent defending and the goalkeeping heroics of Hannes Halldorsson [the goalkeeper cum film maker] who denied Messi from the spot. In that game against Iceland and for the very first time, I saw pressure write its name all over Lionel Messi. Then I said to myself, “Leo is human after all and just like every human, needs support when the going gets tough”.
The narrative couldn’t get any better for Cristiano Ronaldo as he scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over a gallant Moroccan side, taking his tally in the world cup to 4 goals in two games. Again, Messi had to do something. The expectation was high and so far Messi was on the low, possibly immersed in dancing to Flowking Stone’s song, “Go Low”. The G.O.A.T argument was heating up but Leo was still lost in the cold of Russia. As the Argentinian anthem was played before the game against Croatia, the camera fixated its gaze on Lionel Messi. Messi was seen rubbing his forehead vigorously [if not viciously] with a genuine look of concern [if not pressure] running all over his face.
Again, Messi failed to come to the party as his side were hammered 3-0 by a determined Croatian side. The trolls on social media intensified. He missed a penalty against a film maker and here he is again, failing to sparkle when his shine was needed. Some said Messi is the best player in Barcelona whiles his rival, Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world. Incredible, isn’t it?
Honestly speaking, I believe that Lionel Messi is not being treated fairly. Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty yesterday against Iran but it has not gathered so much interest. Maybe, the relevance of the penalty miss has to be considered since Portugal qualified to the round of 16 despite that miss. Well, the world isn’t fair…..at least that’s what I have observed. However, when you are coached by a certain Jorge Sampaoli who has developed a special crave for tattoos at the expense of tactics, what else should be expected? Sometimes, individual brilliance wins games but that is a smaller picture. The bigger picture is the team; the potency of its tactical system and the efficiency of its style of play. These two traits of a great team has been non-existent in this Argentinian side. The team talk from the coach sounds something like…….. “My boys, the time is now. Don’t worry. When you get on the pitch, just give the ball to Lionel Messi, take a deep breath, stand still and watch the God of football [Messi] conjure his footballing miracles.”
As sarcastic as it may seem, that is the reality of the extent of burden Lionel Messi has been made to bare by their heavily tattooed coach. Elsewhere in Portugal, the teammates of Cristiano Ronaldo work tirelessly for him but in Argentina, Lionel Messi has to work tirelessly for all of his teammates. Messi is blessed with teammates like Segio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Paolo Dybala but Sampaoli as a football tailor, has been unable to bring these wonderful attacking pieces together in order to produce a well-knitted team. Despite Messi’s brilliance, Barcelona weren’t reluctant in splashing the cash to purchase a certain Neymar so as to ease some burden off Messi’s shoulders. When Neymar departed, Barcelona again splashed the cash to bring in the promising Ousmane Dembele. For whatever reasons, Sampaoli has ensured that Lionel Messi is the only creative outlet of this Argentinian side. Cut the head off and the body becomes dysfunctional……..Take Lionel Messi out of the game and the Argentinian side becomes dysfunctional. It is incomprehensible as to why a player like Paolo Dybala warms the Argentinian bench. Is it really true that Messi and Dybala cannot play together?
What Sampaoli must realise is that Messi, unlike Cristiano has maintained his skill-set on the ball hence making himself susceptible to heavy marking. Evident in games against Iceland and Croatia, he is almost immediately surrounded by 3 players anytime he has the ball. When he is left with no option than to pass the ball his options are to pass to either of; Eduardo Salvio, Javier Mascheranno, Enzo Perez, Marcos Acuna or Meza Maximiliano so as to try and carve out a chance for Sergio Aguero whiles the likes of Dybala, Di Maria and Ever Banega are made to warm the bench.
According to OptaJoe, Sergio Aguero didn’t touch the ball in the final 21 minutes & 11 seconds of the first half during the Argentina vs Croatia game…….That is undeniable truth of a lack of support. However, Sampaoli thought it wise to take off Aguero and bring on Higuain [ that was the first substitution of the game for Argentina] when it was clear that the problem had to do with a lack of service from the midfield and the wingers. If the Lionel magnet can attract 3 players of the opposing team to himself, imagine the possibilities if there was another playmaker in this Argentinian side.
Cut Messi some slack……He has done his bid as an individual [2Copa America finals appearances and a world cup final appearance] to ensure that Argentina wins a trophy but he needs a team in order to grab that evasive national team trophy. Mind you, Portugal won the EURO 2016 without Cristiano Ronaldo being on the pitch for a long time in the final game……..that is undeniable evidence of teamwork.
No matter the result of today’s game against Nigeria, my point is that even if Messi is God, he still needs angels to work with.
Follow on twitter@kwabaid