World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi has disappointed me - Gary Lineker

By Gary LinekerBBC Sport
Gary Lineker looks for more from Argentina's Messi

Watch the World Cup final live and uninterrupted on BBC One on Sunday, with Gary Lineker presenting Match of the Day Live from 19:00 BST.

There is something not quite right with Lionel Messi at this World Cup.

I am the Argentina captain's biggest fan and he is the most wonderfully gifted player since Diego Maradona but, here in Brazil, I have been disappointed with what I have seen.

Some people might say there is not much wrong with Messi at all, because Argentina are in the final and he has scored four goals to help get them there.

But there is no question in my mind that the Barcelona forward has become quite static on the pitch in this tournament.

No movement from the magician

I watched Messi closely when I went to Argentina's semi-final win over the Netherlands in Sao Paulo, and there was so little movement from him.

Yes, the Netherlands put a man on him like everybody else does, but he was very easy to mark. He did not do anything like the amount of running he usually does.

I have watched him for years and he always scores a lot of poacher's goals by darting into the box late.

Lionel Messi touch map against Netherlands
Messi's only touch in the area against Netherlands was his penalty in the shootout

But every time Argentina did attack down the flanks against the Dutch, he did not even try to get anywhere near the area.

The only time he touched the ball in their box was when he scored a penalty in the shootout.

He has had some magical moments at this World Cup and dug Argentina out of a hole on occasions in the group stage, but his overall performance so far has been staccato.

I had a feeling watching him for Barcelona this season that he was saving himself for the World Cup, but he has clearly not been in brilliant physical condition in Brazil.

His father says Messi is exhausted and, no matter how much he wants to, it will not be easy for him to turn it on in the final at the Maracana either.

He is a special player, and he is still scoring goals, but I am not convinced he will play in the way we know he can because he looks so jaded.

I understand the argument that Messi needs to win the World Cup to be elevated to the same level as Maradona in the highest echelon of football. They are both from Argentina for a start.

I think it will massively help his case if they do triumph on Sunday, but I don't see it as an absolute prerequisite.

But for those who do believe it matters, I don't think it is just about Messi winning this tournament - it is about his performance level, and tiredness has caught up with him.

Messi vs Maradona

Maradona was a genuinely astonishing player, tiny but incredibly strong. By a million miles he was the best I ever played with or against.

Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona led Argentina to victory over West Germany and World Cup glory in 1986

I don't mean it as a pun after the way he scored his first goal against England when Argentina beat us in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final, but his left foot could manipulate the ball as if it were a hand.

There are obvious similarities with Messi in the way they could both beat people and are both predominantly left-footed, Maradona even more so because he hardly even touched it with his right.

And they both have the ability to ride tackles and get themselves out of unbelievably difficult situations with people all around them.

How good was Maradona?
"When I was at Barcelona, I played with Maradona for a 'Rest of the World' team at Wembley in 1988 as part of the Football League's centenary celebrations and every other player was in awe of him. Even great players like Zico and Michel Platini - their jaws dropped when he walked into our dressing room. We went out for the warm-up and he got a ball and juggled it all the way to the halfway line, then booted it about 50 yards in the air and when it came straight down booted it again. He did it about 12 times and never had to do anything but walk. I remember telling the other Barca players when I went back to Spain and we all tried it. The best anybody did was three, with a massive sprint at the end."

But it is difficult to compare players from different generations.

There are massive advantages to playing now, which is why we are seeing goalscoring records being set all over the place. The laws are more in favour of forwards now, and you cannot just be kicked constantly like Maradona and other great dribblers were.

But I think the biggest change is in the quality of the surfaces that they play on. In Maradona's day, they were generally awful and, in that 1986 quarter-final, the pitch we played on at the Aztec Stadium was like a cabbage-patch.

Gary Lineker
Lineker scored as England lost 2-1 to Maradona's Argentina in the World Cup quarter-finals in 1986

They had dug it up a few days before and replaced it with really small squares that moved every time you put your foot on one.

To score the second goal he got against us that day - the good one - on a pitch like that showed what an absolute genius he was.

Germany carry multiple threats

I found out when I met them both a few years after that famous match in Mexico City that the Argentina manager Carlos Bilardo had offered my marker, Oscar Ruggeri, several thousand pesos to stop me scoring.

Argentina won, and went on to win that World Cup but Ruggeri did not get his bonus.

Looking at the Germany team Argentina face at the Maracana on Sunday, I am not sure who their manager would pay to stop.

Thomas Muller
Germany striker Thomas Muller has scored five goals at this summer's World Cup in Brazil

Thomas Muller is Germany's leading scorer and looking to become the first player to win two Golden Boots. I like Muller - he is a funny looking footballer who is slightly ungainly and falls over, but he sees things, makes brilliant runs into the box and he is a wonderful finisher.

But they have plenty of other people who can score too, as we saw when they demolished Brazil.

Miroslav Klose has scored more World Cup finals goals than anybody else and they also have dangermen in midfield like Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger, as well as players like Mats Hummels who can come forward from the back at free-kicks.

With Argentina, teams look at Messi and say if we stop him we are really going to limit their opportunities - but with Germany it does not work like that.

The key thing for them is that they are a team, and a team of very strong players - especially their midfield area and going forward.

Khedira key to keeping Argentina at bay

Germany have played with a high defensive line in Brazil, which has been interesting to watch but the key to that working so well is that since Shkodran Mustafi's injury against Algeria, they have had to shift Philipp Lahm back to right-back, from defensive midfield.

Lahm is a great player but he is not a great defensive midfielder because I think he is a bit undisciplined and leaves them a bit open.

Germany got away with that in their group games against the United States and Ghana but they might have struggled against better opposition. Now, however, Sami Khedira is playing. It is one of those forced changes that happened to England at major tournaments in my time. You can call it luck, or call it what you like, but they have looked much stronger since Khedira came in.

Could England have won the 1986 World Cup?
"I get asked about how I almost equalised in our quarter-final against Argentina a lot. I pulled one goal back from a John Barnes cross and thought I had scored a second before the end. I've watched it a lot because I could not work out what happened at the time. Barnes put a cross over and I saw it all the way. I was three or four yards out as usual and headed it perfectly but the full-back Julio Olarticoechea sort of came from nowhere, and the ball hit his head and went behind. I did not even know he was there.If we had gone to extra time against Argentina, I am not sure we would have won. They were the better side and they had Maradona, but we will never know. But I would not have played against Belgium in the semi-finals if we had got there. After that header I ran into the post and did my knee ligaments - I was out for two weeks."

Argentina are much better defensively than everybody expected and will keep things tight again in the final, but their forwards have not been on fire and the injured Angel Di Maria will be a big miss.

Di Maria has remarkable energy to go up and down the pitch and is their one player who can do that, especially with Messi not moving so well. Without him, they might struggle to hurt Germany.

I have said before now that football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.

Again, this time I will be very surprised if they don't.

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