Friday, April 10, 2009

Barça's MESSI v. Argentina's MESSI. My verdict

NOTE: I'm deeply sorry for not being around during the last couple of days. I had to format my computer and lost a lot of the back-up files I had (now I've recovered them so I'm quite happy with how the problem was solved).

I've missed out on commenting on a few interesting things that happened over the last few days. The most important of all being Lionel MESSI's mercurial performance for Barcelona against Bayern Munich.

Now I've seen a few comments by some of our readers and I've noticed there is an ongoing debate on whether Lionel MESSI can play for Argentina just as greatly as he plays every week for Barcelona and I would like to write a few things about it.

Starting from the notion that it is impossible to compare a club with a national team, I guess what we should consider whenever we want to start a debate like this is that continuity is a key for any player to perform with consistency over a prolonged period of time.

Playing only twice every three or four months and without the chance to train with your Argentina team-mates as often as any player does at their club, is hardly an ideal platform for a footballer to show his best attributes or live up to his entire potential.

As one of our readers pointed out in the comments' box, on top of what I just wrote, MESSI doesn't have XAVI and INIESTA behind him. Or ETO'O and HENRY around. All players that are part of a structure and, just like MESSI, don't perform for their national team, like they do for Barcelona. Well...perhaps Spain, the form national team in recent times, have found a way for XAVI and INIESTA to play a similar role and in a similar position to what they do every day. So they are not affected by this change of scenario that much.

What about FIFA World Player of the Year, Cristiano RONALDO, and his lackluster performances for Portugal compared to a 42-goal season for Manchester United? Let me remind you that Portugal is a national team that is on the verge of missing out of South Africa 2010? And what about Serie A top-scorer Zlatan IBRAHIMOVIC and his almost eliminated Swedish national team?

With those points made, I would like to remind everybody here, that Lionel is just 21 years old. Lionel is just starting his international career and he's got numbers that are not bad at all.

He scored 12 goals in 36 matches with the Albiceleste. To put that into perspective, he is only 7 goals shy of breaking into the top 10 in the history of our national team. That's not something you manage to achieve if you don't perform at an acceptable level.

Here's the top 10 (First/Last indicates the year in which these players had their first and last cap):

Name First/Last Goals
1. Gabriel Omar BATISTUTA 1991-2002 56
2. Hernán Jorge CRESPO 1995-2007 * 35
3. Diego Armando MARADONA 1977-1994 34
4. Luis ARTIME 1961-1967 24
5. Leopoldo Jacinto LUQUE 1975-1981 22
Daniel Alberto PASSARELLA 1976-1986 22
7. Herminio MASANTONIO 1935-1942 21
José Francisco SANFILIPPO 1956-1962 21
9. Mario Alberto KEMPES 1973-1982 20
10. Norberto Doroteo MÉNDEZ 1945-1956 19
José Manuel MORENO 1936-1950 19
René Alejandro PONTONI 1942-1947 19

The asteriks means the player is still active.

In that list, except for MARADONA, PASSARELLA, LUQUE, MENDEZ and MORENO, (to no surprise) we see only strikers.

MESSI is not a natural goal-scoring striker. A target man. A hit-man. He is more like a second forward. Sometimes an offensive midfielders. He plays wide, not inside the box waiting for a rebound or a cross from the wings, which makes it more difficult to score.

He doesn't take penalty kicks or free-kicks (a great source of goals for MARADONA and especially PASSARELLA, if we talk about the players in that Top10).

I guess we all agree in that.

Now if we want to (again!) compare him with MARADONA and we want to base that comparison in statistics, we can see that MARADONA scored one goal every 2,67 matches during his international career.

MESSI, on the other hand, scores a goal every 3 matches, but there's no denial that average is getting lower and lower (take the last three matches he played. He scored 2 goals (at France and v. Venezuela).

Speaking strictly about performances, because it'd be unfair to compare players based only on goals scored, we need to put things into perspective.

When MARADONA was 21, he was just starting to become famous worldwide. He was winning the league with Boca Juniors in 1981 and being bought by Barcelona right after that. He had won the Youth World Cup in Japan in 1979 (like Lionel did in Netherlands in 2005) but was snubbed by MENOTTI in 1978 for the Argentina World Cup (contrary to Lionel, who made the squad and played his first World Cup in Germany -aged 19-).

I was a little boy at that time, but let me tell you that MARADONA was not regarded as the best player in the world in the build up for Spain 1982 (his first World Cup). In fact, he had a terrible tournament in Spain and even saw the red card in a match against Brazil. He was strongly criticized by the public opinion after that and only managed to win over the critics in Mexico 1986 and kept showing his best football in Napoli for several years after that World Cup triumph.

Times have changed and players tend to reach their peaks much faster than 20 or 10 years ago. This 21-year-old MESSI, granted he started his career in Europe, has achieved more success than MARADONA when he was 21 in 1981 and he is a famous face worldwide. That is quite irrefutable and the facts I provided you with in the last couple of paragraphs can serve as proof.

Please...don't take this as if I was telling you that MESSI is better than MARADONA. I don't think he is.

Diego is and will forever be my favourite player. No matter what. Because he was the main reason I fell in love with football and he ruled the world during the time when the strongest love affairs are built in a person's life: the childhood years. Nobody will be able to dethrone him in my heart. NEVER. It doesn't matter if MESSI leads Argentina to two or three World Cup wins!

At the same time, I'm a big big fan of Lionel. I think he can be more successful than Diego, yes I do. And I'm not ashamed to say that I want him to be.

I think they are two very different players with two factors that make them equal and should immediately make us support them unconditionally:

1. They are the best players in their respective generations.
2. They play for Argentina.

I think we should support MESSI just as much as we supported MARADONA. Give him time.

We are up for great things from this little fellow and mark my words, you'll miss MESSI when he retires (I hope that happens a million years from today!). So if you're not a Real Madrid fan from Brazil, enjoy MESSI in every match he plays. In Blaugrana or Albiceleste.


Roy said...

Completely agree with you Seba. People tend to forget that Messi is only 21, it seems like he's been around forever with everything that he's achieved so far, but he can only get better. Last season was a bad one for him, yet he still finished 2nd in the World Player of the Year voting. He's already won 2 La Liga titles, 1 Champions League title, a 2008 Olympic Gold Medal and an U20 World Cup title.

His personal statistics aren't bad either. 16 goals and 7 assists in 30 matches in the Champions League. Counting La Liga, Champions League and the Copa Del Rey, he has 74 goals and 35 assists in 151 matches.

Can he do the same with Argentina? Probably not, but that would be next to impossible. Like Seba mentioned, Xavi and Iniesta play together both with Barcelona and Spain which is the reason why they're connection is so good. Messi seems to be randomly partnered up in every match with Argentina. Crespo, Tevez, Aguero, Milito and even Acosta! It's very difficult to duplicate the same performances with the NT as you have with your club team and that goes for any player. Past or Present.

johnny said...

Thanks for that Seba. Well said. You just can't compare a player's performance for his club team with the NT. Way too many variables involved. It doesn't stop people from doing it though. A cabbie pointed out to me yesterday that Messi "never plays" for the NT as he does for Barcelona.

A question-do you think there would be all this talk about Messi being a NT slacker if he had played club football in Argentina ? I get the impression that Messi is seen as a bit "less" of an argentine because he left at about the age of 13 for Spain.

Sebastian said...

Good question, Johnny. A tricky one.

I'll answer with a question.

What about RIQUELME? He did play (and still plays) for a top club in Argentina. Still...he never managed to have everybody on board.

The thing with players with a history in the domestic league is even trickier than that.

People will get on MESSI's back and he won't have many backers when things go bad, but at the same time, fans of every club will have no problems accepting him and supporting him when things are sweet because he belongs to fans of every club (perhaps the exception of Rosario Central because MESSI is a confessed Newell's Old Boys fan).

The big difference, the way I see it, is the media. Local journalist will tend to favour Boca and River players (or those with a history there). That will ALWAYS play against MESSI. So they will build up the image of players like RIQUELME, TEVEZ, MASCHERANO and others, because they know they will have Boca and River fans content.

I'm confident MESSI will eventually reach a level in which he'll overcome all of this negativity. In fact, he was applauded and got a standing ovations last time he played in Buenos Aires (v. Venezuela).

I think the only player of the current squad that has conquered everyone is TEVEZ. Even River Plate fans love him.

TEVEZ has something MESSI surely lacks: charisma.

And the fact that TEVEZ embodies the 'Argentine dream' (if you like). A boy from an incredibly tough area that rises above every danger and problem and then conquers Argentina and gets hero status in Brazil and England. I mean...who does that??? How can you not love a player like that?

Campante said...

Hi Seba.

Nice to read your comments about Messi. It reminded me of how, a couple of years ago, we used to have the same argument in Brazil regarding RONALDINHO GAÚCHO. Of course, RONALDINHO's career came crashing down after the 2006 World Cup, and now he is a struggling to become a starter in his own club, not to mention the national team.

This whole Argentina's MESSI vs. Barça's MESSI gained some steam because Argentina fell badly to Bolivia, and then a week later Barcelona was up 4-0 over Bayern Munich by halftime. How come?

But what you said about the Argentinian media being more friendly to local players is something very important. In Argentina (and also in Brazil, I can tell you that), the local media and the local fans usually play a huge pressure on the national team coach. To say, one Victor Hugo MORALES opinion can have a big impact over the national team's fortunes, isn't it? (I don't know if Mr. MORALES is the best example here, but I think you can understand my point)

And if one player has played his whole career overseas and suddenly things go wrong with him on the national team, I agree that the local media and the local fans can be a little harder on them. They just don't have the same connection with them as they do with players that are "home-grown".

messidona19 said...

Thanks Seba for taking our debate into consideration. It was a great article you wrote although the heading was Barca's Messi vs. Argentina's Messi and the article was about who was better at 21? Maradona or Messi but nevertheless it was a GREAT AND VERY ENJOYABLE ARTICLE. I certainly believe that Messi is performing for Argentina as he does for Barcelona and i have to admit that Maradona's presence as the coach motivates him to do better. Look at his last 3 matches with Argentina. First was an amazing goal against France , Second was a goal and an assist against Venzuela without forgetting that last Messidonesque run which could have been the goal of the year , as well against Bolivia with that run from the middle of the pitch and the one two with Tevez which should have gone in too (he has to be forgiven in that match for not being able to breathe normally!)
As regard to Xavi and Iniesta having experience with each other by playing for Spain and Barcelona , i completely agree and wonder about one matter , What if Kun Aguero comes this summer to Barcelona , Will his partnership with Messi be good for Argentina the same way Spain are benifitting from Xavi and Iniesta's partnership?

p2bn said...

Well I see the point of your article and being in Argentina, I can believe the necessity of it. But for me personally and as far as I know, most media around here in Europe and Asia, don't even take the issue or Barca's Messi and Argentina's Messi. He has played good enough when he gets the chance and every time people think we have outperformed in most of games I have seen him play, it has not been just because of him but mostly because of him and we must know relying solely on one player to win a cup can let us surely to a big heartbreak. Look at the Brazilians relying on mainly Ronaldo in 98 world cup. And concerning him and Diego, well I think it's not even right to compare explicitly these two as they are of different times. I loved Diego not because I saw his game, I was born in 87' but mainly because everyone else loved him.

Still thanks for all the points given here, all are very right on target. But for me personally, Messi's rather introvert nature might be one reason people can't quickly connect with him, look at ronaldo, so many people love him not for his football :-).

We all know our El Messiah is going to prove the world with his football.

Vamos Argentina

John said...

From what I can gather from fans around here, they want to see MESSI in every aspect they can regardless if he plays for Argentina or Barcelona. They simply love him. MESSI is real phenomenon here when it comes to football talk among the fans in Malaysia. It doesn’t matter if you’re supporter of Man U, Liverpool or Arsenal; they will all agree just how good he is.

Quite contrary to C.RONALDO is because most non Red Devils fans here just love to hate him to death! But that’s the beauty about Lionel, he is perhaps the only non-Premiership player that has everyone’s attention.

I say, let Lionel be Lionel and lets not put all that extra pressure on his shoulder at this age. I’m sure one day he will take us to the promise land.

About Kun coming to Barca and if that would help MESSI play better for the NT?

Well I remember at one time when Juan Sebastian VERON, Claudio LOPEZ, Hernan CRESPO and Diego SIMEONE all played for Lazio together during the 2000-01 season. It was that nucleus that Marcelo BIELSA build his team around and as we all know we were so dominant during the qualifier for the 2002 World Cup. CRESPO was scoring freely back then simply because the link he has build with VERON at club level (even going further back when they were together at Parma).

The again I’m not too sure whether Barca will make drastic decision to bring in Kun when they already have a team at the moment. Will see how it goes.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is that Messi is amazing at Barca the expectations for him in Argentina are out of this world. He still plays great for Argentina, he was great vs Venz and had a few chances vs Bolivia. Lets get one thing clear and Seba has got it right, Argentina does not have all the players Barca has, I am not saying that Argentina is like Liberia when Weah was playing, Argentina on paper have the best team in the world with Spain. I think when the WC is around and he is with the team for about a month or so, and no jetlag or any little issues, he will be just as magical he is for Barca. The Maradona vs Messi is like comparing apples and oranges. If and only if Messi wins the WC for Argentina then I will call him greater then Diego. I have had this convo with families members who had seen Diego play and they say Messi on talent alone he is better then Maradona but what makes Diego speical is that he carried the team to a WC. I still say if this team has any chance of winning, they need that #9, and I do not get why Maradona will not call up Pipita up and give him a try. If Maradona does not take Pipita to the WC, that will be a crime to Argentine football.


John said...

That’s true Jack! I’m puzzled by the fact why Gonzalo HIGUAIN does not get the call from Diego (or even from Coco BASILE before that). He hasn’t done anything wrong to be ignored like this. The fact that everyone knows that France is knocking on his door and he had repeatedly said that he wants to play for Argentina, makes this whole scenario looks more confusing. PIPITA has prove to be a revelation for Real when most of their strike force were out injured.

cha said...

Well, messi still 21 and off course he will improve and get better. I don't want to compare messi and maradona in technics aspect. They are very unique.
One thing for sure, Maradona has achieve his peak and prove consistency (in clubs or NT).
So, can we compare messi to maradona? Carlos Bilardo had said, only if messi can bring Argentina reach world cup trophy than u can compare him to maradona!
Maradona made a differance coz he carry all the burden and pressure of one team. Hope messi can do it also for NT!