Stanley: Messi’s talent has been wasted by Argentina


Alex Morgan scored five goals and registered two assists as the US beat Thailand 13-0.

Sandeep Stanley

Lionel Messi is the greatest soccer player of all time.

“La Pulga,” the mercurial 5-foot-7 forward’s nickname, has won an astounding 31 titles with his club team F.C. Barcelona, including eight La Liga, the Spanish league competition, championships; six Copa Del Rey, the Spanish cup competition, trophies; and four UEFA Champions League titles.

Messi and midfield mainstay Andres Iniesta are the most decorated players in Barcelona’s storied history, which stretches all the way back to 1899.

With the departure of Iniesta to Japanese club Vissel Kobe, Messi is very likely to surpass his compatriot next season and become the most successful player in Barcelona’s 119-year history.

Messi also boasts a truly immense number of individual accolades, from five FIFA Ballon d’Ors, to five Trofeo Alfredo Di Stefano awards, given each season to the most valuable player in La Liga, to an incredible 11 consecutive selections to the FIFPro World XI.

In addition, Messi has set a staggering number of records. He holds the record for the most goals scored in club competitions in a calendar year, with 79 in 2012. He is also the top goalscorer of all time in El Clasico, Barcelona’s biannual meeting with fierce rival Real Madrid, on 27 goals.

Perhaps most impressive, though, is his current status as the top La Liga goalscorer of all time, with 383 goals.

“La Pulga” has surpassed both recent competitors, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, David Villa and once Barcelona teammate Samuel Eto’o and revered legends of the game like Athletic Bilbao forward Telmo Zarra, Real Madrid icons Raul, Hugo Sanchez and Di Stefano, and Barcelona phenomenon Cesar Rodriguez.

In short, Messi’s dominance with Barcelona is unprecedented. He has led the club to a golden age of success.

Why, then, does Argentina fall short time and again with Messi leading the line?

There is one main reason for Argentina’s consistent failures on the big stage, and it lies with a disconnect between the players and the tactics they work with.

Say what you will about Diego Maradona’s off field antics, but there is no doubt that he and his Argentina teams consistently achieved success. Their road to victory in the 1986 World Cup, in particular, has a special place in soccer history. However, Maradona also enjoyed a wealth of talent that Messi’s team simply does not have.

Yes, Messi’s current squad has unquestionably the best attack in world football, with the Barcelona talisman joined by Juventus teammates Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, alongside Manchester City star Sergio Aguero. However, that is the extent of their talent — the remainder of their squad is shockingly barren.

Maradona’s 1986 victors had world class players in every position. Oscar Ruggeri was perhaps one of the best defenders to come out of Argentina.

The only player on Argentina’s current squad who could compare is Aguero’s club teammate Nicolas Otamendi. Even so, Otamendi is wildly inconsistent and hot-headed, and a patient attack will frustrate him to the point of uselessness as seen in the match against Croatia.

Sergio Batista and Julio Olarticoechea were excellent utility weapons, able to equally contribute to attack and defense as needed. Giovani Lo Celso may become that in time — however, the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder is only 21.

The piece that is most lacking is Jorge Burruchaga. Burruchaga was the Robin to Maradona’s Batman, if you will — a lethal second option that consistently threatened defenses who double and triple-marked Maradona.

Who on this current team can even come close? A washed up Angel di Maria? A disinterested Aguero? Please.

The talent is only half of the problem, though — the other half is the tactics.

The Argentina team has been trying to emulate the playstyle of the 1986 and 1990 teams for far too long. Fluid passing and lightning-fast transitions to blistering attacks only work when a team can boast a superior quality midfield, complete with a defense to mop up any missteps.

There just isn’t a spark of creativity in Argentina’s midfield to match Maradona or Burruchaga right now, except for Messi — and that is the reason he is consistently dropping back more and more; to try and create chances.

The only problem is, once Messi starts playing as a center midfielder, because Ever Banega and Lucas Biglia are completely incompetent, it becomes magnitudes more difficult for him to also provide the clinical finishing that notable choker Higuain lacks.

Messi can’t create and finish chances at the same time.

Argentina needs to learn from the results Portugal was able to achieve at the 2016 European Championship. Portugal knew exactly what they were — a side that were content to sit back, defend and take whatever chances Cristiano Ronaldo could give them.

In the end, Messi and Argentina managed to squeak their way through to the next round with a 2-1 victory against Nigeria. However, they must now face favorite France in the round of 16, and even I cannot bring myself to believe that Messi will carry his team through.

As legendary Argentine midfielder and World Cup champion Osvaldo Ardiles tweeted, “The decline of Argentina in the last years has been disguised by this incomparable genius. We are so lucky that he was born in Argentina, but even for him, it was too much at the end of the day. Leo: thank you for everything and the best of luck in the future.”