Argentina holds down Messi: Maradona still better

March 24th, 2010 - 5:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Buenos Aires, March 24 (DPA) In Europe, many argue that Lionel Messi is already better than national football legend Diego Maradona ever was.
But Argentines will have none of it.

Messi is the undisputed leader of a historic Barcelona, which has won one trophy after another with play that has often been described as unstoppable.

And yet the 22-year-old has conspicuously, and repeatedly, failed to shine in the Argentine national team jersey.

Of course, media and spectators alike are impressed with Messi’s play and with his prolific goalscoring, even in Argentina. Even in his home country, most would agree that the young striker earned the titles of the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year 2009.

But these facts are still not enough to erase his widespread image as a lame, harmless player while wearing Argentina’s blue-and-white shirt, or the frequent accusation that he will only really commit to Barca because that is where his money comes from.

“He still cannot play (with Argentina) as with Barcelona. There, he dribbles and scores goals. Here he loses the ball and he never shoots on the goal,” Argentine sports journalist Juan Pablo Varsky wrote late last year in the daily La Nacion.

“There, he enjoys himself. Here, he suffers.”

In such a setting, Maradona remains far ahead of Messi for Argentine football fans.

But the youngster may be standing before a perfect chance to make amends. And he apparently knows it too.

“To become a legend, to be great, you also have to win a World Cup,” he said in an interview that the Spanish daily El Mundo partially published Tuesday.

Indeed, Maradona’s best and most memorable performances with Argentina came in Mexico 1986, when he was 25 and he helped his country to claim a second World Cup trophy. By age 22, Maradona was indisputably less than Messi in objective football terms.

While many in Argentina doubt that Messi may already be better than Maradona ever was, few would brush aside his talent and his potential to reach greatness, if only because they have seen it with Barcelona.

Argentina has trouble acknowledging Messi as one of her own. He left his native Rosario at age 13 to join Barcelona, and rose through the youth schemes of the Catalan club. He is a rare example of an Argentine football star who never played professionally in Argentina.

Maradona, on the other hand, was already an Argentine football icon by the time he moved to Barcelona in 1982. At the time, he was about the same age as Messi is now.

Another global football legend, Johan Cruyff, wrote in a column this week that Messi is “invaluable,” among other things for taking responsibility on the pitch “when it is most necessary” - precisely what Argentine media so often accuse him of not doing with the national team.

“Messi has proved nothing when he is removed from his Catalan habitat,” Argentine sports daily Ole bitterly said Tuesday.

Others are more lenient, and acknowledge the striker’s brilliant present.

“Messi is Maradona: was that a vision devised in a week? For it to be true it will have to be confirmed from June 12, in Johannesburg, when the ball gets rolling against Nigeria,” Argentine football commentator Horacio Pagani said, with reference to Argentina’s World Cup opener.

Maradona and Messi are bound to be different as players, and Messi would do well to enjoy even the comparison.

“Maradona had more football vision, while Messi’s ability for putting it into practice had never been seen before,” said Espanyol’s Argentine coach Mauricio Pochettino.

Messi is set to turn 23 during the 2010 World Cup. “The age of maturity?” the Ole daily asked.

“He has to be the saviour. It’s him or nobody else. If he plays as with Barcelona, that’s it, they’re all getting back with the cup.”

But Ole will not forget Argentina’s coach, still the country’s greatest football symbol. If Messi and his team-mates do win the World Cup, “Maradona’s legend will be even greater.”

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