From the moment that Messi blew that terrible free kick miles high and wide of the target, he must have known that a chastening morning was in the offing. That miscue infront of goal was just one of a plethora of attacking errors, which consigned Argentina to yet another unimpressive performance, one compounded by an even less impressive result.
For a team blessed by attackers like Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Lavezzi, one goal in two games against teams far below top quality is unacceptable. Whether such failures are the fault of a tactical system which partially negates Messi’s threat, or just a symptom of the lack of initiative needed to qualify from the farcially organized Copa America group stages, it is hard to say. The stodgy play of Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Mascherano does nothing to complement the World’s greatest player, though in the end, stodgy or not, Argentina are virtually guaranteed to qualify for the next round.
The fall out from Argentina’s latest underwhelming match will do nothing to lift what is fast becoming a cloud of criticism soaring over the head of a certain little number ten, Messi’s failure to inspire so far has led to unfair treatment by the fickle Argentinian press.
For all his genius, there is nothing Messi can do to relive the pressure building upon him, the two time Champions League winner is forever cursed by comparisons to arguably the all time greatest exponent of the beautiful game. Diego Maradona constantly haunts all Argentinian players of a certain stature, the man who single handedly won the Albiceleste a World Cup is the benchmark that all of the country’s attackers are held to.
While Messi has reached heights at the club level that Maradona never touched, El Diego’s World Cup winners medal will always see him favored in comparative conversations. Whatever Messi does, how ever many goals he scores, he will always rest firmly in the shadow of Maradona, just as entrenched as other Argentinians of less prodigious skill.
Surely at this point in the development of the game, we have reached a stage where players should exist in their own right, and not have to be constantly entered into a futile race to overtake Maradona and Pele. At this stage, Lionel Messi is by far the most accomplished player on the planet, and maybe it is time for the footballing public to accept that, and stop trying to push him even farther.
What Maradona achieved with his performances at the 1986 World Cup is a type of success unlikely to be replicated ever again. The man dribbled, passed and cheated his way to football’s summit, and with it sealed a legacy which will likely outlive that of brilliant players who never won a World Cup, men like Cruyff, Puskas and Best. Maradona is football’s ultimate player, and no man of any ability deserves to be held to his standards.
Messi is a gift to the modern footballing world, a player that deserves better than to be chained down by a perpetual discussion. Messi is Messi, Maradona is Maradona, perhaps now is the time to abandon our efforts, and let Messi be his own man.