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The two sides of Lionel Messi

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Tim Vickery | 08:48 UK time, Monday, 2 November 2009

The candidates were announced last week for the Fifa World Player of the Year award. Am I the only one out there who's not too interested?

My problem with the thing is that this concentration on the individual can tend to overshadow one of the fundamental truths of the game - the stars shine brightest when the collective balance of the team is right.

The point is proved by a brief look at the performances this year of one of the favourites. Based on what he has done for Barcelona, Lionel Messi would be a worthy winner - but that would certainly not be the case if the criteria was restricted to his form with Argentina. How can this be true?

For a start I think we can discount the leaden-minded nationalistic nonsense that Messi lacks motivation when he plays for his national team, that he is too European, and so on.

The foreign-based legion of Brazil and Argentina frequently become exasperated by this line of criticism, and I can understand why.

They make sacrifices to play for their national team which many Europeans would not be willing to go through.

In the case of Messi, he was the only Argentine, and one of only four players in the entire continent, to play all 18 rounds of South America's World Cup qualifiers. I think we can conclude that he is every bit as motivated to play for Argentina as he is with Barcelona. He's the same player, the ball is the same shape and the pitch is the same size. So what's the problem?

Surely it lies in the fact that Barcelona are a team in the plenitude of the word. They are set up to get the best out of him. Xavi and Iniesta give him the ball with quality, Daniel Alves breaks outside him to stretch the opposing defence and create room for his darts infield, and when he cuts in on the diagonal, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is there to exchange passes.

In a Barcelona shirt he is surrounded by friends and allies. For Argentina he is just surrounded. He beats one opponent, and another three are waiting to stifle him.

lionelmessi595335getty.jpgMessi celebrates another goal for Barcelona - this time in the Champions League

Now that Argentina have qualified for the World Cup, Diego Maradona has to turn his mind to this question. Time is tight. Next year there is only one Fifa date before the end of the season. So the two dates later this month are important - and the squad named last week holds clues to the coach's mindset.

Maradona appears to have high hopes of the link-up between Messi and Juan Sebastian Veron - who combined well last month to set up the crucial goal against Uruguay. For this month's games so far he has only called up his European-based players, but it would make sense to rest Veron this time - the midfielder is 34, and has his short term sights set on next month's Club World Championship.

If Veron does end up being left out of the coming match against Spain, there have been recalls for Fernando Gago and Esteban Cambiasso, might Maradona be thinking of playing three in central midfield - so in the World Cup it might be Veron in front of Mascherano and either Gago or Cambiasso? That way he keeps Veron central, with a full vision of the game, where he can get close to Messi, but also has sufficient cover behind him.

The only way this seems viable is with a back three, and wing backs to supply the width. This is what makes the recall of Maxi Rodriguez intriguing. Is this because Maradona is giving up on his full backs and instead thinking of Rodriguez and either Jonas Gutierrez or Angel Di Maria to work the flanks?

At the heart of all these ruminations must surely be the desire to give Messi a structure similar to the one he enjoys at Barcelona - Veron behind him, Rodriguez outside him, and the hope of a growing relationship with new centre forward Gonzalo Higuain.

After one poor performance against Peru, Emiliano Insua was left out. But if there was bad news last week for one Liverpool left-back, there was good news for another. Fabio Aurelio was called up by Brazil as part of their squad to face England and Oman. In a strong indication that the left-back position is still up for grabs, Michel Bastos was also included for the first time.

Two other new players drafted in look on less solid ground in their hopes of a World Cup place. Coach Dunga is unlikely to add any domestically-based players to his squad.

The Brazilian Championship is in its closing stages, and there is no pause to coincide with the international dates. Adriano of Flamengo and Diego Tardelli of Atletico Mineiro are both in scintillating form as their clubs push for the title. The strength of Porto's Hulk makes him a stand in for Adriano, the mobility of Hoffenheim's Carlos Eduardo substitutes that of Tardelli. Both the new boys will have to do something very special to get past the home based boys and nail down a definitive place in the squad.

Unlike Argentina, there is no need for Brazil to pull apart their side and try and put the pieces back together in the search for a winning formula. Brazil qualified in comfort, as did Chile, who make just one significant change in their list of foreign-based players for coming games against Germany and Slovakia.

There is a recall for excellent holding midfielder Claudio Maldonado. Unobtrusive but effective, Maldonado is not the kind of figure ever likely to be nominated for a Fifa World Player of the Year award. But he is the type to balance out a team and give a platform for the stars to shine.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag;

Q) I'm sure you've heard about the Brazilian Division Two match where a team apparently scored nine goals in the last nine minutes to secure promotion.

Did this really happen? And if so, while being on the one hand "hilarious", surely on the other it's a disgrace and something very worrying to see in a professional football association. Has it cast any doubts on the integrity of soccer in Brazil, and do you think that any implications will arise from this incident?
Dan Casey

A) It's much lower down the food chain than people might imagine. This did not take place in the national second division. Brazil is divided into 27 states - this was the second division in one of those states, and a fairly remote one at that. So the players at some of these clubs might be professionals, but only just. Salaries will be very, very low - which can increase temptation in cases such as these. Perhaps the main implication is that these days, in the era of mass technology, it's not possible to get away with something this blatant.

Q) As a Liverpool fan, I was recently discussing what players could be signed on the cheap in January to help boost our thin squad, and someone mentioned Adriano. Apparently, he has a clause in his contract that will allow him to leave for free in January should a big club from Europe come along and try to sign him.

I was wondering whether you could confirm whether this is true or not? How has his form been in South America over the past year? Do you think he would make a good signing for us, and would he be willing to come?
James Blattman

A) He's in superb form for Flamengo - sometimes he looks like an adult playing with kids. His agent, though, is saying that he doesn't want to know about a move back to Europe at least until after the World Cup - and after his psychological problems and battle with alcohol abuse in Italy it might take a brave club to risk money on him even then.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great blog Tim....keeping up the norm really.

    Can i ask about Dunga's selections for Brazil - surely Pato's stock has risen with his performance in Madrid, will he get a run out v England?

    Also with his impressive start to the season why is Anderson being ignored whereas the poor Lucas continues to be selected?


  • Comment number 2.

    Do you think Pablo Aimar will be able to hold on for a first place in the team? I think he should get more chances apart from the Peru game, where he assisted Higuain with that great through-ball.

    And surely Saviola might deserve a call-up? He's been on fine form this season.

  • Comment number 3.

    great blog tim, i read it every week.

    question though, im a spurs fan and have heard of the interest in Sandro who is currently playing for Internacional. is he any good, and who could he push out of the spurs midfield? palacios seems a dead cert to start every week because he roughs up our midfield with his tenacity, but could he be a like for like replacement for him, or would jenas or huddlestone have to drop down?

    last question, are you on twitter yet?


  • Comment number 4.

    Excellent blog as always, Tim. Messi has not been in his best form of late even with Barca - he did, for example, look slow and indecisive in the recent draw at Osasuna - but he remains the one truly outstanding talent in world football today, and so Maradona's only logical choice is to adapt the team to play to his strengths.

    Personally, I believe a somewhat radical 3-4-3 would be the best way in which to accomodate all Argentina's attacking talent, while at the same time avoiding unwanted exposure of the inherent weaknesses of the squad. The bottom line is that Maradona has only one international-class full back available to him, and that is 36-year-old Javier Zanetti on the right. On the left, there is no acceptable option: Papa and Heinze are high-priests of mediocrity, and while Insua does have talent, it's too big a gamble to expect him to develop into a top-class defender over the next six months, especially considering the mayhem surrounding him at Liverpool.

    Thus, it would make much more sense to go with a three-man back-line - although this in itself is a considerable risk since all of Argentina's top three central defenders (Samuel, Milito, Demichelis) presently struggle to make the first team at their respective club sides. In midfield, a solid base must be the number one priority: Mascherano is untouchable as captain of the side, but needs to show a considerable improvement in form at club level. Alongside him, I would select Ever Banega ahead of Veron and Gago as the ballplaying central midfield man. The Valencia player is in the best form of his career so far and has the ability to set and vary the tempo of the game. Then pick a couple of wide-men who can defend as well as attack: Datolo seems a logical choice on the left, on the right I'd pick either Zanetti or Maxi Rodriguez depending on fitness and form. In attack, Messi takes a free role on the right, Higuain should be centre-forward ahead of Lopez or possibly Milito, while the sensationally skilful Diego Perotti vies with Di Maria for a spot on the left.

    As for goalkeeper, I'm not convinced by any of the existing alternatives, but would like to point out that Oscar Ustari may finally be on the verge of fulfilling his obvious potential. He's now first-choice keeper with Getafe and made some really excellent saves in the recent game with Real Madrid.

    Lastly, it's very pleasing to hear that Aimar and Saviola are back playing together and apparently very well for Benfica. I've had high hopes of them both since they first broke through a decade ago, most of which sadly have gone unfulfilled, but they are both remarkably talented players and should be in the World Cup squad, although I predict it will be hard for either to break into the first team.

  • Comment number 5.

    What has happened to Lucho Gonzalez? I know he moved to Marseille in the summer and I've always thought he was a class act.

    Has he fallen out with Maradona or is he just not in favour?

    They certainly have very strong central midfield options, Cambiasso is a top top player and surely deserves a spot somewhere. Can't believe Real let him leave on a free.

  • Comment number 6.


    What is your opinion of Felipe of Deportivo La Coruna as a potential left-back for Brazil? He had an excellent season in Spain last term and, in my view, he looks faster and more athletic than either Fabio Aurelio or Andre Santos, while his defensive abilities are clearly superior to those of Marcelo. With the right-back position taken by either Maicon or Daniel Alves, both of whom are guaranteed to bomb forward at any opportunity, wouldn't it make sense to select at left-back a player who excels in terms of concentration and positional awareness?

    Also, I know you're highly critical of Dunga's policy of piling one-dimensional defensive players on top of another in central midfield, and I agree absolutely with this criticims of Brazil's current style of play: why do you think he persists in calling up average players such as Gilberto Silva, Elano and Lucas, while consistently overlooking Renato of Sevilla, one of the most accomplished central midfielders in Spain, and a player who can not only win the ball, but actually pass it too?

  • Comment number 7.

    Do you think that there is any chance that Ronaldo (the Brazilian one; potentially the greatest striker there has ever been) might make Brazil's squad for the 2010 world cup.

  • Comment number 8.

    Good article and i can only agree on the base of the argument that the team will always be more important than a player no matter how good he happens to be.
    Argentina really do have a worringly lack of quality in defence at the moment, and it will be hard for Maradona to address in time for the world cup unless their top defenders step up and improve to what they were a couple of seasons ago.
    Agree with post #4 as well on Ever Banega playing ahead of Veron as he is looking great at the moment, but to be fair on Veron i haven't had chance to see him much this season so may not be fair to pass judgement on him.
    Tim, name some up coming stars of South America so i can save time scouting them on FM10 please!

  • Comment number 9.


    Messi's form with Argentina recently is indeed startling, and I believe the consistency of the Barcelona starting XI has a major contributing factor in his infinitely superior form a club level.

    He knows precisely what to expect from Xavi, Iniesta, and now.Ibrahimovic, and this telepathy is integral to his style of play.

    With the Albicelestes, it is impossible to tell who Maradona is going to include in his squad, let alone his starting line-up, therefore he cannot build up a relationship with those around him.

    I agree though that this could change by bringing him and Veron in tandem, but I only wish Riquelme was still around...

  • Comment number 10.

    Tim, given Flumenense's 3-2 victory at Cruzeiro last night, how do rate their chances of beating the drop with 5 games to go?

  • Comment number 11.

    Reflecting on the main topic of this blog-the differing form of Lionel Messi, i would have to question whether there has really been such a stark contrast.
    First Argentina- Messi's form for the national side has dipped ever since Argentina moved away from the services of Hernan Crespo and laterly Riquleme, i dont think the 70+ players & numerous formation changes have aided any return to form either.
    Secondly Barcelona, Messi has been in faultering form for his club for most of this season. I'd attribute this to a number of issues, inparticular exhaustion. From his return from injury at the 1st leg semi final of the CL in 20O8, through to the champions league final of the following season 2009, Messi has been playing none stop (the 08 Olympics bridging the off-season break)and at a level of form that should see him deservedly crowned the Worlds best in December. However playing consistently high for over a calendar year has to have its repercussions and the less than spectacular start to this season is the sign of a player/athlete in desperate need of a rest!
    The other factor to his dip is a change in playing style & tact. Messi has with each passing season become more & more rigid to cutting inside that he has nullified his own threat by becoming too predidictable. He needs to go back to hitting the byeline on occasion to vary his threat (cast the mind back to a very young Leo Messi destroying Del Horno at the stamford bridge byeline!) Today the direct Messi running with the ball offering to go on the outside aswell as the in, has been lost & replaced with a less dangerous recurrent cut-in and pop-off to Xavi.

  • Comment number 12.

    4 and 6 - some excllent coments about argentina and brazil, roy.
    I'll take the brazil one, because that's the aspect less covered in today's blog.
    left back - i think filipe Luis of La Coruna is the big loser of this call up. Andre Santos is also out - but he's had a run of games, has had a chance and can still consider himself a probable for the World Cup.
    Filipe Luis had one chance - played last month against Venezuela - and out. Dunga would rather bring in Fabio Aurelio and Michel Bastos than have another look at filipe.
    Another loser - Marcelo of real madrid. Last year one of the justications for leaving him out was that he was playing left side of midfield for his club. well, i think fabio aurelio and michel bastos are doing the same, but they're both in.

  • Comment number 13.

    7 - won't be easy for ronaldo to get in - though he does have a platform with corinthians - plenty of goals early next year in their libertadores campaign will give him a powerful lobby.
    On the downside, dunga has his group, and they've produced results. he took over on a team versus stars ticket, a response to the perceived excess of licence give to the stars in the 2006 campaign. Then it was ronaldo's side - now it's kaka and lucio's - the religious fanataics have replaced the bohemians.

  • Comment number 14.


    Good blog yet again. I don't know too much about the depth of Argentinean football, i.e. young right backs who could make the team, or the depth of goalkeeper, but having watched the last few qualifying games they've played I don't think the 3-5-2 which has been suggested will work.

    Given the lack of quality at the heart of the Argentinean defence playing three centre backs would give the opposing wide men too much space. The system used by most coaches is the 4-5-1. That would pin back both wing-backs, or stretch the back three across the pitch, thereby leaving the central defender without cover.

    Also, Messi, the subject of the article, will falter if he is not given space. Tim pointed out that in a wide position, with Dani Alves proving the opposing left back with cause for concern, Messi gets the space to operate. Playing Messi centrally, as he would in a 3-5-2, would not afford him the space to operate.

    Maradona has the players (in my opinion) to pull of a very good 4-5-1 with Higuin or Milito as the focal point and then one of many to play on the opposite side of Messi. He also has an abundance of central midfielders.

    Where my lack of knowledge comes in is in the defence. What I do know is that reducing the number of defenders to three and playing Messi centrally is not the right move.

  • Comment number 15.

    Great read Tim, as usual.

    You have said it all. It's true too much emphasis is being given on the individual rather than the team work. Look at the parallel performances of Ronaldo at club level and his national team? That's why some workaholics like Gilberto Silva are not fully appreciated with all the dirty work they do for their clubs.

    In my opinion if this award could be given to managers then it could make more sense because they're the ones who create balance and shape the sides.

  • Comment number 16.

    Never been a big Messi fan. I do not buy the arguement that Argentina do not give him the platform to play. Id he is as great as we have been led to beleive. So Argentina will have to play barca style 4-3-3 to accomodate a 'great' player? Not sure I agree with that at all.

    I have always wondered what exactly Messi is: a winger? a striker? a midfielder? He is compared to Maradona which is frankly insulting on the great Diego. I am old enough to remember King Diego playing for clubs and country and he was excellent for both. King Diego won matches on his own and his teams used to suffer without him. Barca will be the same without Messi while he does nothing for Argentina anyway. Yes he does dribble excellently with the ball but would he be good in the 'hole' behind a striker? In a Barca team that are always on top in most of their games he excels. For Barca, remove Iniesta and Xavi and the team suffers greatly.

  • Comment number 17.

    I came to a similar conclusion about the Messi situation a few weeks back ( on the back of Menotti's comments (

    If Messi could in fact drag Argentina to the World Cup next year that would be an unbeleivable achievement.

    Tim, I recently asked you on the World Football Phone In what you think Messi needed to do to bridge the gap of impact he's had and that of Ronaldinho had at Barca. You said the World Cup would be massive for him and I can't agree more. If Messi and co pass the test we may be able to categorise him as one of the greats because talentwise he's already there.

  • Comment number 18.

    This concentration on the individual rather than the team is a sad indictment of not only the development of football philosophy, but of society itself. The 80's saw the rise of neoliberal capitalism, and the philosophy that said individuals should just care about themselves, and if individuals just work for themselves then society and life itself will function optimally. You can see this attitude in several different aspects of life, like schools, television, even the NHS. At schools, the emphasis (certainly in the UK and other countries that have embraced neoliberalism) has been on results, and individuals just working in a self interested way, so that the primary motivation of teachers is to ensure high grades of their students, so they can get a pay-rise or promotion, rather than ensure intellectual and emotional development.
    With the NHS, we see the obsession with waiting times, and the emphasis being on personal incentives of hospital managers to cut down on waiting lists and fulfill statistical criteria, so that he/she can increase his/her income.
    With regards to television, this article in the Guardian, in an interview with Who Wants to be a Millionaire winner David Edwards, puts it perfectly:
    "As teacher and quiz show veteran, Edwards is perfectly positioned to see how things have changed over 30 years in both areas. On TV, as in schools, the concept of public service has had to defer to the market. Out with Ask the Family, in with Who Wants to be a Millionaire. "Since the 80s," Edwards agrees, "money has become more important, as has the feeling of every man for himself."

    With regards to South American football, I hope that team work is going to be the priority for their coaches as they prepare for the world cup, and they return to traditional values especially when competing in the world cup against increasingly individual orientated European teams. I definitely think the South American nations can do extremely well, especially if they remember that teams will football matches, not individuals. In fact I would love to see a South American side win with their own brand of football, not only because I like watching the styles of teams like Brazil, Argentina,etc (especially in the past) but also because of the parallel between the more socialised countries of South America, with their emphasis on community, public service and the economically disadvantaged, triumphing over the cold, amoral, individualistic countries of Europe (not all of them, admittedly).

  • Comment number 19.

    Post 16: I'm a little unsure as to your point "For Barca, remove Iniesta and Xavi and the team suffers greatly." you can say this about any team in the world, remove their two best central midfield players and every team suffers greatly. Remove Lampard and Essien from Chelsea and they'll be a lot worse off, remove Gerrard and Mascherano and they'll be a lot worse off, it really is quite a redundant point.

    The comparisons of Messi and Maradona are for quite obvious reasons. With them being there stature, the way they dribble the ball (i.e. it looks as if its attached to their boot with a piece of string and the speed at which they change direction when running at high speeds with the ball at their feet), country of origin, tenacity and strength which belies there size. Messi also scored a goal very similar to the one Maradona scored against England in the 86 world cup. Check youtube there's a video where it runs them both simultaneously.

    The reason they are setting the team up around him is simple. If you have the best player in the world you want to extract as much out of him as possible. You may argue that setting the team up to get the best out of one player is foolish, but if your getting the best out of Messi the other team will put all of their efforts on him and this will free up the other players who can then utilise there immense talent.

    I am a big Messi fan, having watched his debut for Barca where he lobbed the goalkeeper quite nonchalantly which would have been a fabulous finish to then be ruled offside. Moments later he then opened his account with a very similar finish to the one he was ruled offside with.

    Post 14: I agree their best formation could well be the 4-5-1/4-3-3 as adopted by Barca. Play Higuain or Milito up top Messi wide right, aguero, tevez or perhaps Di Maria wide left, Veron central with Gago/Cambiasso with Mascherano as midfield "destroyers" behind him. With a back four, although defence does certainly seem to be a problem for Argentina. I really feel as though they are missing Ayala who was such a fabulous servant for them. If you were to name the best defenders in the world I can't think of an Argentinian who would be mentioned on the list at this moment in time. It's a bit of a shame Burdisso hasn't developed into the player people thought he would.

  • Comment number 20.

    Problems with Messi on the Argentine team begin with the manager. As great a player as he was, Maradona has given no indication he is even a fair manager, let alone a very good one. Let him hang his hat on getting Argentina to the World Cup, I'd say, and get someone better as soon as possible.

    I suspect that with, for example, Bielsa (not that he's available), who's got decent-ish Chile the second spot in SA qualifying, Argentina would be a real threat to win the Cup, not a good choice to crash out in the first round.

    The most important thing a good manager does is not tinker with formations, but weld a team confident in itself and its leader from disparate individuals, and Maradona doesn't happen to be the man for that job.

  • Comment number 21.

    I suspect Messi does not have as much confidence playing for the Argentinian senior team as he had playing for the U-20 and Olympic teams, and for Barcelona.

    In the junior teams he was the 'undoubted' star and got star treatment. He also gets star treatment at Barcelona. I bet in the senior team, this is not the case.

    South American / African senior teams are complex; junior players no matter their skills cannot experience the same type of reception Rooney gets in the England team.

    Recently a pundit wrote - 'no Rooney, no world cup success for England'. IMO it would be hard to imagine an Argentinian journalist write 'no Messi no world cup victory'.

    My point is the dynamics of the team - the authoritative presence of senior players and a coach who will not give Messi star treatment - affects his performance.

    In a nutshell, its a motivational thing, not the personal motivation of playing for your country, but the additional motivation that comes from being made to feel special.

    Ask Veron how he felt at ManU not being the 'boss' dictating play.

  • Comment number 22.

    @Post 19, you are a big Messi fan. I am not. I just think that if he is as great as he is being built as then why does the team need to be built around him? Like I have asked before I ask again: What is his best position? Can he play behind a central striker so that the TEAM can play better? Am afraid he can not. It is cos of these 'limitations' that TEAMs like Brazil can nullify players like him and Roman Riquelme all the time. As someone rightly pointed out here, teams should be the goal not individuals.
    Football currently favours the forwards hence his great goal that is being compared to Kind Diego's. During King Diego's period he had to hurdle the kind of tackles that get people sent off and banned these days. Argentina have such talented footballers that is madness to alter the team to fit in Messi. Really is. I watched their defeat in Chile and I could not believe how poor Messi was alongside Aguero - they kept passing to each other ignoring Milito who offered the better physical presence. My shock when Milito was hurled off at h/t when it was still goalless. And with him any chance Argentina had of scoring as Kun and Messi were easily nullified.

    King Diego should never have gotten that job as I think he is way too passionate to make rational decisions. However, he has a good squad of players and should make a good fist of the World Cup campaign. The conditions should remind them of Argentina '78 in SA which they won.

  • Comment number 23.

    Well, it only took 8 hours to sort out that new BBC ID, but there we are ;)

    "The candidates were announced last week for the Fifa World Player of the Year award. Am I the only one out there who's not too interested?"

    Join the club Tim! Not the slightest bit interested in individual player awards. Football's a team sport, and while I appreciate a lot of people see the added value of these kind of awards, to me they're too subjective. Especially that "election" where national team managers decide who's the best. If I remember correctly, Marco van Basten used to get votes even after his retirement!

    Club trophies is where it's at, and even the players nominated know it. No matter how big their egos, I've no doubt they'd rather win the Champions League three times than the Ballon d'Or or FIFA's award the same amount of times.

    On a totally different subject: did you share the feeling of an air of inevitability over São Paulo's latest catch-up game in the Campeonato Brasileiro? They're bound to eventually finish 5-6 points clear aren't they?

  • Comment number 24.

    Good blog as always.

    A question about Jonas Gutierrez. Maradona has said before publicly that he considers him one of his definite picks for the World Cup. Why exactly is this? Based on his form for Newcastle, I really can't see why... He works hard for the team, sometimes, but his end product is extemely lacking; he can't and/or won't shoot, and his crossing is inconsistent at best. He frequently fails to get any crosses in as well, or killer passes. His major plus points (for us, at least) are that he is a good dribbler, he's quick(ish), and he doesn't give the ball away much.

    So why exactly is he considered undroppable by Maradona? Is he the opposite of Messi? IE. Someone who produces their best form on the international stage. What are your thoughts?

  • Comment number 25.

    I don't get this Veron praise. Apart from what was essentially the only bit of intelligent play in the whole game Veron was atrocious against Uruguay (and all he did was take a shot from a different angle). Argentina actually held the ball well, for periods of the game Uruguay didn't get a touch. But the one player failing this was Veron who was supposed to supply creativity in the midfield. Instead the strikers had to drop deep to get a touch only to turn and be confronted by a mass of Uruguayan defenders. Mascherano was more progressive than Veron.

    Personally I feel Maradona should treat Messi as a wildcard. Someone that may or may not produce a bit of magic that may turn a tight game. Otherwise the rest of team actually has the basis of a team that has a system of play. It holds the ball very well and n the games I have seen Argentina play they have consistently created chances from their wide men. A midfield of Mascherano and one or two midfields that can pass well to supply some good wide men in Di Maria, Datolo, Rodriquez, Gutierrez.

    One question. I'm glad Ansaldi has been picked, presumably on the back of his performance against Barcelona. Is there any chance others plying their trade in eastern europe may get a look in?

  • Comment number 26.

    #16. Emekus,

    It is obvious to me, and probably most people reading this blog, that you don't know much about Lionel Messi, Barcelona, the Argentinian national side, or football in general. Messi is mostly considered a winger, but obviously he can be used as a forward or in the midfield, always as an attacking player. In this day and age (and always for that matter) players can have different roles and may be used as the coach feels is correct for his team or the player himself. To say that barca would be the same without Messi is nothing short of ridiculous. They do relatively ok (relatively bc he is a world-class player) without Iniesta as recently he was injured. Xavi is also an amazing player, and also considered by many the best in the world so obvious barca would suffer without him. As to "would he be good in the 'hole' behind a striker?" that is a question that isn't worth answering. Finally, you may be forgiven because you are an ignorant on football.

  • Comment number 27.

    # 18 SR819 This is a fooball blog, not a philosophy or ethics class.

  • Comment number 28.

    What about Alex Pato and Diego? If they're not on the plane to South Africa i will be very dissapointed. Cannot understand how players like gets in the squad instead of them.

    And do you think Higuain is now first choice and do you think theres any chance of Zarate getting in the team, cannot understand how is constantly overlooked aswell.

  • Comment number 29.

    @thehonorarytitle, I forgive you because this is an internet forum. You are probably 25 and think that all of football is what happens now and nothing before. Let me assure you that you can NOT know more about football than I do.

  • Comment number 30.

    Hi, you know a lot about SA football, great posts.
    On a side note...i've been listening to you in some podcasts and you are making some mistakes with some pronouncitions, for instance:
    for Gonzalo Higuaín you say: HEE-Gah-EEn
    but it should be: EE-GOO-A-EEN (with the stress in the last syllabe)

    and also the double L (ll) its not the same as the lone L

    but overall you know most of the correct pronounciations
    I hope i made myself clear, english is not my mother tongue.

  • Comment number 31.

    23 - took me a while as well - glad you got there in the end!

    18 - I have a huge amount of sympathy for this line of argument. The other day I was watching the first Austin Powers film - the bit where, after being frozen for 30 years, he's struggling to work late 90s technology - doesn't know how to play a CD, etc - one of my stepdaughters was cracking up because it reminded her of me - I do feel like a man out of time, getting out my mat and praying to the values of post-war social democracy because it gave me council flats, free health and education, opportunities to grow,etc.

    Where i disagree is your conception that the south american countries are more socialised, with emphasis on colelctive values. In my humble opinion, this could hardly be more wrong. Brazil is every one for him/herself. What's badly lacking here are exactly the values of post-war social democracy that did so much for me and my generation in Britain.

  • Comment number 32.

    31 - thanks for the higuain hint. Argentine pronunciation is always a challenge - in many cases the only way to know on a definite basis is to ask the guy - i recall the case of noir when he first came through at boca. he had to make it clear that it wasn't 'noir' as in french - it was no-ir.

  • Comment number 33.

    when i firsr went to argentina in 96 the whole double ll thing freaked me out.
    I'd come across it playing football in rio against some argentines, and them not understanding when i talked about ricky villa - until, "oh, you mean Vija.' Got it.
    So then in Buenos Aires in 96 - Passareja, right? Wrong! That's an Italian word, doesn't work. Live and learn - mostly from mistakes.

  • Comment number 34.

    29. Emekus,

    "You are probably 25 and think that all of football is what happens now and nothing before.


    My age has no relevance in this argument. Neither does your age. It's besides the point, but Maradona's achievements and talent are common knowledge in most places, specially for a South American, as I happen to be.

    "you can NOT know more about football than I do."

    There is a possibility that there are some areas on football you might be more knowledgeable about. But I am also sure that I am more knowledgeable about other areas. This is a bold claim, to say the least. Some humility would help, specially when you have proven to know about as much football as Maradona knows about coaching.

  • Comment number 35.

    but not even argentinians pronounce the italian way when they should:
    they say Carlos Bianchi instead of Carlos "Bianqui" wich would be the spanish equivalent to the correct italian pronounciation , yet they say "Pasarela" and not "Pasarella"(pasareja) yeah, it should freak you out

  • Comment number 36.

    35 - there are rewards when you get it right, though - i remember gus poyet saying live on TV that i was the first person from england to get his name right - a proud moment!

  • Comment number 37.

    "Zlatan Ibrahimovic is there to exchange passes"
    I doubt that was the reason they brought him in, exchanging another great player for him.

  • Comment number 38.

    Tim. Im a huge fan of Fluminense. I cant but help the fact that if Fluminense beat Palmerias on Sunday at the Maracana, then Fluminense can stay in Serie A and it will be one of the greatest come backs in South American football. Palmerias have been in bad form as of late, and there star keeper Marcos will be suspended for the game. Fluminense have shown amazing spirit recently, unbeaten in 6, being 2-0 down to Goias away from home and bringing it back 2-2, beating title contenders Atletico MG, coming back from 2-0 down to beat G4 contenders Cruzeiro away from home and could yet make it to the Sudamericana Semi finals if they get past a far from impressive Universidad de Chile side.
    I want to know your views on the current situation with Fluminense. Is it the come back of Fred thats influencing this recent impressive form, or coach Cuca? There always seems to be drama with the club in recent times. It would be madness if they get relegated to Serie B and become Sudamericana Champions.
    What is it with big clubs such as Palmerias, Corinthians, Vasco and potentialy Botafogo or Fluminense getting relegated to Serie B. Is it due to poor ownership?

  • Comment number 39.

    The final stretch of the Brasileiro is beginning and its a tight race. In your mind, is it a two horse Paulista race between Sao Paulo and Palmeiras after the SPFC win vs Inter? Is Atletico a legit contender? If not a prediction, what are some of the big factors you see as the year winds down?

  • Comment number 40.

    What do you think of Fluminense chances of beating the drop? I think if Fluinense can take all 3 points against Palmerias at the Maracana on Sunday then we have a real chance of beating the drop. The confidence of the team seems sky high, with Maicon and Fred back, combinding beauifully, and Cuca getting the tactics spot on. Cuca seems to of given off a real fighting spirit, because Flu were down 2-0 away to Goias and came back to draw the game 2-2, then they have done it again against a impressive Cruzeiro side, and went on to beat them 3-2, away from home infront of a sold out stadium full of Cruzeiro fans.
    With star goalkeeper Marcos suspended its only going to increase our chances and im sure the Fluzao fans will pack out the Maracana for this massive game. Botafogo still have Palmeria and Sao Paulo to play which hopefully they will drop points to

  • Comment number 41.

    star goalkeeper Marcos (Palmerias goalkeeper)

  • Comment number 42.

    40 - Yes, Fluminense WILL beat Palmeiras. God is Atleticano.

  • Comment number 43.

    as far as the title race in brazil is concerned, i don't think it's a 2 horse race - as well as palmeiras and sao paulo, atletico mineiro and flamengo are right in there.
    i don't think the teams at the top are that great - no one is showing much consistency, so there's a chance for flamengo, who have hit on a formula with adriano, petkovic and maldonado all doing well together.

    at the other end of the table, i think the rise of flu is all down to fred coming back from injury - he gives the team an extra dimension, the ball sticks up front, there's a platform for conca to hit and maicon to run off.
    trouble is that so many of the other sides down the bottom are picking up points now - flu will have to overtake botafogo - who would have thought they'd win away to inter?

  • Comment number 44.

    Barca will be the same without Messi while he does nothing for Argentina anyway.
    The poster claims to know something about football - and then produces this absurd statement which misses the entire point about Barca's recent success and Argentina's recent struggles.

  • Comment number 45.

    The philosophy of 'build the team around a superstar' has its problems.

    Remember Argentina 1982 when Menotti tried to do just that with Maradona in the vortex? What he forgot was that many of his world cup winners like Kempes, Tarantini and Fillol (Fijol?) were past their best. For his part Maradona Maradona was heavily and often violently marked unfit and not in his best form.

    Putting all their eggs into his pudgy basket was high risk strategy that didn't pay off.

    Although Bilardo's 86 side was more far less cavalier than Menotti's, but I feel that they (like Brasil in 1994) are never given the respect they deserve. In Valdano and Burruchaga, Maradona had allies that were also fine technical players. Hence, the term 'Maradona plus 10 others' could not reasonably be applied as a criticism.

    As serval people have pointed out ... last season Messi was just one of an outstanding team that were run by the 'Xavi and Iniesta carousel' and ably support by Henry, Eto et al.

  • Comment number 46.

    If Adriano wants to return to a properly competitive league, he could do no better than join United. He'll get he supply, and the games, and be the focal point the team badly needs. And he won't have the temptations that Milan, Madrid, Barcelona or London might have to offer. Please oh please...

  • Comment number 47.

    46 - Properly competitive league? Brazil is the most competitive league in the world. 5 games to go, 6 teams fighting for the title.

    You don't have that in England.

    And I don't see any reason to think that any team in Brazil is any weaker than any Non Top-Four club in England.

  • Comment number 48.

    29. At 7:42pm on 02 Nov 2009, Emekus wrote:
    @thehonorarytitle, I forgive you because this is an internet forum. You are probably 25 and think that all of football is what happens now and nothing before. Let me assure you that you can NOT know more about football than I do.


    Genisis, hasn't Fergie already made clear that there is only room for one big drinker at OT?

  • Comment number 49.

    Surely there is enough Carling and/or Special Brew in Salford to go around?

    Also, that is quite an arrogant statement, yet if you look hard enough you're bound to find a quote from any of Fergie, Mourinho, Ronaldo to rival it.

    Messi is a special player to watch, but as Tim points out he is encapsulated in a team at Barcelona, that just isn't the case for Argentina. They've some of the most talented players in the world at their disposal, but somehow at Barcelona they have a team devoid of ego. Perhaps Maradona will get Argentina's stars singing the same tune. Personally I think they need to look at ball retention as key, they seemed to concede possession too easily in the last round of qualifiers. Who can be their Iniesta and Xavi? I'd be tempted to play Banega and Veron/Riquelme further forward.

  • Comment number 50.

    Hi Tim,

    Another excellent article.

    As you pointed out Messi is part of a team and effective system at Barca.

    However, in the Argentine national squad he is relied on to do a lot of the donkey work - mainly attributes he does not use at Barca.

    And with Messi being THE most talented youngster on the face of the planet, the pressure from Snr Maradona and the Grondona at the AFA may have affected his performances for the national team.

    Messi is an outstanding talent, but needs to be consistent at national an domestic level to succeed - rather than when he can be annoyed.

    As an outside bet, I'd wage £10 on Xavi or Iniesta lifting the coveted award.

    Keep up the good work sir,

  • Comment number 51.

    A great blog, Tim, and very consistent as always.

    I especially love this part: "concentration on the individual can tend to overshadow one of the fundamental truths of the game - the stars shine brightest when the collective balance of the team is right."

    One thing us fans clearly forget is there's no Rambo-style player - even Gerrard for us Reds. All teams are teams first, and individuals second. Even the most gifted teams can fall apart when individualism shows up, a problem the Dutch have particularly suffered from in major tournaments.

    This is not to say there's no room for individualism and the myriad giftings God's provided for the athletes we pay to watch. Individuals like Messi, Ronaldinho, Gerrard, Torres, can change play and create magic from nothing, but it doesn't make them superhuman. Brazil, in South America, has ruthlessly learned to pick apart the key players in opposing teams. They only need to isolate and kill such play and the opposing team's doomed.

    There can be no shortcut for surrounding the gifted with grunters; the hatchet-men that do all the dirty, donkey work. It's a superb article highlighting a fundamental truth. In this day and era of fast everything, fans and the media alike often forget building a team isn't just spending, but lots of experimentation (not unlike what Maradona and his coaching staff are doing for the Albiceste). Hits and misses often occur as this isn't a foolproof process.

    Once more Tim, this is a good read and I do appreciate your insights into the technical side of soccer, plus numerous profiles on players I've never heard of or seen play. For a serious and mature soccer fan there's lots of truth from this article.

    I look forward to even more such writing, true refreshment in an era of misinformed and malicious opinion masquerading as journalism.


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