When Messi Plays for his Children
Throughout his career, Messi has often been an enigma. Messi has now grown as a mature player and leader. Now, he needs his team more, he helps his team, he makes his team play.
Possibly, this is the last time for Lionel Messi to appear in the World Cup. It is understandable; he is 35 years old. It is not certain that he will be able to reappear in four years. If so, this is the time when he has to play his Swan Song; the time when he will sing the most beautiful song with his feet, before he exits from the World Cup.
Throughout his career, Messi has often been an enigma. As written by Jonathan Liew of The Guardian, Diego Maradona and Pele once discussed this at a Swiss watch promotion event in Paris.
Maradona said, "Messi is a big individual, but he doesn't have the personality to be a leader." Pele agreed, "Messi is a great player, no doubt about it. However, he has no personality.”
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Is the assumption of the two world football legends true? It used to be true. But now, maybe not. "Messi is a silent leader. He really shows his personality when he plays,” said Jorge Sampaoli, a former Argentina coach. Football veteran Sergio Batista added, Messi may be less self-effacing on the field, but when he talks in the locker room, everyone listens.
In front of his colleagues, Messi turns out to be very authoritative and able to show his leadership authority. In the locker room, ahead of the 2021 Copa America final against Brazil, he encouraged his colleagues, “For 45 days we were confined to a hotel. For 45 days we didn't see our family, friends. That's all for now. So, we go out there and lift the cup. We're taking it back to Argentina. And I want to end with this, coincidence doesn't exist. This championship should have been held in Argentina, but God wanted it to be played in Brazil so that we can win at Maracana and make it more beautiful for all of us.”
He is getting old. In the past, he drove alone, he didn't give five to six of his colleagues a chance. Now, he needs his team more, he helps his team, he makes his team play.
Messi's intention was clear: it was very honorable if Argentina could beat Brazil in Maracana. So, for Messi, it was not a coincidence that because of the COVID-19 surge in Argentina, the South American Football Confederation cancelled Argentina as host and transferred it to Brazil. That was the chance to humiliate Brazil on their home turf. Messi's dream came true, Argentina took home the Copa America trophy after defeating Brazil 1-0 at Maracana.
According to coach Lionel Scaloni, Messi has now grown as a mature player and leader. “He is getting old. In the past, he drove alone, he didn't give five to six of his colleagues a chance. Now, he needs his team more, he helps his team, he makes his team play. He plays the ball no more than three seconds. He weighs more. He knows how to train and how people look after him and pay attention to him," said Scaloni.
Messi's former coach at Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) Football Club, Mauricio Pochettino, said, “Messi is different now than before. Playing in clubs is different from playing in the national team. As a star player, in the national team, Messi can be at the center. At PSG, that cannot happen. There, he has to share the role with other big players: Neymar Jr, the Brazilian star; and Kylian Mbappe, the French star. Because he is not constantly at the center, Messi can reduce his stress. Not only on the field, also in front of the media.”
Messi no longer considers himself important. However the opinion of his colleagues is not so. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez said, “Ninety-nine percent of Argentina is Messi. We are only the remaining 1 percent. We run like lions and try to help him."
Alexis Mac Allister praised Messi as a player who helped his friends a lot. The Argentine central midfielder always tries to give Messi a pass. The reason is, if the ball is at Messi's feet, everything becomes easy. It happens like magical automatism. Even when he does not mean to aim at Messi, the ball falls at his feet. The ball seems to want to be his. It is not wrong, because whose feet can feel the ball perfectly better than Messi's feet?
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That happened when Argentina scored the first goal against Australia. "Actually I meant to pass the ball to Otamendi. But the ball was aimed at Messi.” At that time, Nicolas Otamendi seemed to lose control and Messi greeted it, touched it briefly, then netted it into the opponent's goal. “I said to Leo, that's my assist for you,” Otamendi joked about the missed pass, but it's true.
Messi must win for the sake of Argentina. That is a heavy burden on Messi's shoulders. So, left-back Nicolas Tagliafico was happy when Messi dared to say, "I sometimes play for my children, not for Argentina." Then the burden will be off his shoulders, he will regain his sense of freedom and will win more easily for his children and of course for the people of Argentina.
Argentina realizes that it is not easy to beat the Netherlands in the quarter-final match. Moreover, Louis van Gaal threatened, "We have to make calculations of Argentina." Until now, Van Gaal is still upset at the memory of the Netherlands' defeat on penalties to Argentina in the 2014 World Cup semifinals. And he wants to make up for it now.
That's your opinion, but I don't think your opinion is the right opinion.
Van Gaal said, “Messi is great, but I see, so far Messi doesn't seem to act much when his opponents have the ball. It's certainly an opportunity for us.” Van Gaal does not care about the statements of journalists who think the Netherlands play negative and boring football. "That's your opinion, but I don't think your opinion is the right opinion," said Van Gaal curtly.
Van Gaal emphasized that in achieving his goals, the Netherlands would walk their own path with calmness and certainty. Everyone is of course waiting with anticipation, whether Van Gaal will be able to really make the right calculations of Argentina.
This article was translated by Hyginus Hardoyo.