By now, Lionel Messi has established himself as the best player in the world, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, at least in my opinion. For sure, Ronaldo is a more well-rounded player, capable of scoring with his right and left feet, as well as being a great header of the ball, but Messi is devastating with his pace, quickness and dribbling ability. Furthermore, he has led his teams to more La Liga and Champions League trophies than Ronaldo, which elevates him to the top of the player’s ranking. However, Messi hasn’t been able to achieve any silverware with Argentina. Being runner-up in both the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa América is nothing to sniff at, though for a country with a history of football success such as Argentina, second place is failure, even more so having not won a major trophy since the 1993 Copa America.
So, why hasn’t Messi been as successful with his national team as he’s been with Barcelona? Argentina even hired Gerardo Martino, a former Barca manager, as its head coach, in their latest attempt to recreate the highly successful era that Barcelona has sustained since Messi was brought up to the first team. And there lies the answer: Argentina simply doesn’t have the players to support Messi, in essence creating a team comprising Messi plus 10 other teammates, no matter who they are, as they expect him to carry the load match after match.
One of Barcelona’s staples is having a goalie who is adept at playing with their feet, lately rotating between Claudio Bravo, who is one of the top ten keepers in the world, and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, who is touted as one of Europe’s hottest prospects. Argentina’s first-team goalkeeper is Sergio Romero, currently the backup to David de Gea, and who has been mostly an understudy in every squad he’s been.
In defense, Barca always have two offensive wing backs who overlap their wingers, creating lots of chances and slicing up opposing defenses. Jordi Alba, and this diminished version of Dani Alves are no match to Argentina’s left and right backs. Marcos Rojo, who is best deployed as a centre-back, and Pablo Zabaleta, who started his career in midfield, aren’t specialists, but Argentina has to make do with the duo, as they don’t have other reliable options, and haven’t had one since Javier Zanetti. Their centre-backs can be easily beaten by any speedy forward, and Martín Demichelis isn’t a trustworthy long-term option at age 35.
The only other Argentinean playing for Barca is Javier Mascherano, a world-class defensive midfielder, who is a centre-back for his club. Barcelona’s holding midfielder is Sergi Busquets, who is more skilled than his Argentinean counterpart Lucas Biglia. Perhaps more importantly, Messi doesn’t have an Andres Iniesta and a Xavi, who can build up from midfield and link with the forwards. Currently, Argentina deploys three defensive midfielders, with Banega masquerading as a sort of Iniesta-Xavi hybrid, and Lucas Biglia playing beside Mascherano.
In the forward role, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel Di María and Ezequiel Lavezzi have been almost as good as Luis Suárez and Neymar, which means that the problems that plague Argentina stem from its tactics, unbalanced lineups, and, more worryingly, due to the lack of quality players in key positions.
Speaking of Neymar, he’s also suffered from being thought of as Brazil’s messiah, which was proved in the 2014 World Cup where Brazil didn’t play very well with him in the lineup though they advanced all the way to the semifinals. Against Colombia, he picked up a back injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the World Cup, and we all know what happened: a 7-1 defeat to Germany and a 3-0 loss to the Netherlands.
It may help both Argentina and Brazil to follow the blueprints of two of the most successful national teams currently, Belgium and Chile. Both have top goalies (Thibaut Courtois and Claudio Bravo), and 3-4 stars, (Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel and Eden Hazard for the Belgians, and Chileans Gary Medel, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez). And finally, they surround their stars with talented role players who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their teams.
After all, soccer is still a team game, and time and time again, it’s been proven that no single individual can win a match, much less a title, by himself.