Messi finally shines for Argentina
Published: 23.10.12 / Written by: David Gold
Leo Messi, for all his brilliance and achievements of recent years, has long been questioned back home in Argentina, where many suspect he does not truly put his all in.
Of course this is unfair on a player whose dedication and commitment to the cause are clear to see in his devotion on the field. And Spain wanted him, only for Messi to insist that he wanted to represent Argentina. Yet he has continually failed to live up to expectations with the national team, unable to reproduce the virtuoso brilliance that he shows on a weekly basis with Barcelona.
The reality is that it is very difficult for any team, anywhere, to get as much from Messi as Barcelona do. They switch the play with such brilliance, dominating possession and stretching opponents, that when he gets the ball, Messi has the time and space and position on the pitch to unleash havoc. Rarely has he had that for Argentina - until now.
Suddenly, Messi is the beast at international football that he has been at club football. It has been coming for a while but the tutelage of Alejandro Sabella appears to be bringing out the best in Messi. The recent 3-0 win over Uruguay saw him score twice and set up another for Sergio Aguero, whom he is forging a brilliant partnership with. In 2012 alone, he has scored 11 goals in 7 appearances for his country, the kind of form he shows at club level. By comparison, he had 19 in 67 previous appearances. In part this may be down to a more ruthless, selfish attitude - he has only one assist this year, compared to 10 last. But on the other hand, Messi is renowned for his generally unselfish play, and if he is shooting more rather than passing, that is probably because no one is in a better position than him to shoot.
Sabella's Argentina certainly seem more suited to Messi than the previous regimes. A hat trick against Brazil in a 4-3 win earlier in this year was a sign of things to come. He is revelling in a role where he can spurt around the talents of Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria. Having those talents around him in a cohesive passing unit is creating the space in which Messi can really prosper. Sabella seems more tactically tuned in than Sergio Batista or Diego Maradona, the two who failed to get the best of the 25 year old prior to his arrival.
Now Messi is truly thriving and at the perfect time too. With Argentina storming through South American qualifiers for the World Cup, it seems when rather than if they secure qualification. Messi, it is often said, will join Pele and Diego Maradona when he does it on the biggest stage of all. Though many say that is the Champions League, the implication is that he must follow in their footsteps and win the World Cup. If anyone is to depose Spain in 2014 as world champions, then Argentina look as good a bet as anyone to do it. No country from outside South America has won a World Cup hosted on the continent, and if any of the sides from that region look equipped to win in Brazil, it is their neighbours and Sabella's side who look most likely at present.