May 21, 2013
Messi finally gains local recognition
Lionel Messi was always more popular in Europe than in his native Argentina simply because he played better for his club, Barcelona, than for the national team. This was simply because many local soccer fans failed to realize that Argentina’s national team was not Barcelona by a long shot. A national team meeting perhaps four times a year for a week and changing coaches, styles, names and tactics every five minutes — perhaps that is overdone a bit — cannot be compared to a club which plays and trains together almost every day and had the same coach for years. Not all fans understood that much about the game.
But perhaps after two excellent performances against Ecuador and Brazil this month, the attitude has changed ... as long as it does not change back the day Messi has a poor game. And a poor game he may well have if a rival team decides to mark or put him out of the game as their main tactic. Coach Alejandro Sabella once talked of building a team around Messi. He was wrong and he seems to be worrying about it now. The other day he said his team is finding it very difficult not to depend on Messi. That is a problem, specially if due to injury or suspension, etc. he is not playing one day.
The other problem is that he is playing too much. After a strenuous season due to Barcelona’s success in different tournaments while most players playing in Europe are on holiday — which is longer than that Argentine clubs give their players — Messi will play in three non-club friendlies and five more for Barcelona. They never get enough money!
While this column has always approved playing with three strikers — and while they have the players perhaps they should always do that — a change could always be useful depending on the rival. The mistake is that here coaches tend to announce, if not by word in other ways, the changes they are going to make and tactics likely to use. I was always surprised that training is not done behind closed doors. What Argentina needs now is a settled team and a settled coach. Midfielder Javier Mascherano expressed it well: “The idea is to vary tactics, but not the names.” If they do that, they will be able to play more like a club team such as Barcelona.
Some time ago, Messi said: “Argentina is very far from being world champion.” He may be right, or he may be wrong. It is relative, because it depends on how other countries will be faring in 2014.
However, first of all, the South American qualifying tournament has to be played and leave Argentina in the top four places to reach the World Cup directly, or at least fifth place to have another chance. Players and coaches have always rightly said that the South American group is the most difficult for a variety of reasons. There are long distances to travel — with transport occasionally being deficient — apart from the many European-based players having the long journey to get to South America. Games are played in different climates and altitudes — an important point which occurs in no other qualifying region.
Last time, Argentina only just made it for the 2010 World Cup on the last day of qualifying matches and by one goal. This time, although only a third of the tournament has been played and Argentina won their last two matches, they are still only inside the top four by one point ahead of Ecuador. The general opinion is one of optimism because Me-ssi has finally shown his top form in the national team. OK, but soccer is played by a team of 11 men and Argentina is not Messi!
When Independiente hooligan gang leader “Bebote” álvarez said last week that his gang would not attack club officials anymore (see last Friday’s SPORTSWORLD), club president Javier Cantero did not think he could be believe it and, of course, it was a lie. This week, Cantero was attacked verbally by álvarez when about to be interviewed by TV in front of the club’s offices. The argument led to Cantero accusing álvarez of living off the club and getting large sums from the former president Julio Comparada and telling him that he would sue him in court.
But Cantero also does not do things properly. Why has he not started the lawsuit against álvarez and other gang chiefs already? And why has he not had all the hooligans who are club members expelled from the club. First he said it will be dealt with at a general meeting when — as far as is known from other clubs — a committee meeting can expel members. And what is happening with the court case against Comparada?
DEATH NUMBER 257
The killing goes on with the stabbing of a River Plate fan in the stadium last Sunday being soccer-related death number 257 (plus 5 policemen). The club immediately denied any responsibility, although they are completely implicated as they continue to support their strong hooligan gangs. The killer has been identified as the son of a leading hooligan. A club spokesperson said that in an inspection they did not find a single dagger in the stadium. Was that supposed to be a joke? How can anybody guarantee that there is not a single dagger inside the big stadium and side buildings? A fan complained that the police would not even let him into the stadium with a lighter (an object that can be thrown at the field), while the hooligans enter without being frisked.
For this, and previous incidents, the River Plate stadium should be closed, condemning the club to celebrate promotion — if they go up — outside their own stadium. The prosecutor has asked the judge in the case to have the stadium closed, but the judge “doubts” — or is he being pressed?
Now River Plate is in deeper trouble over paying another club’s players to beat promotion rivals Rosario Central and Argentine FA (AFA) rules dictate far stricter sanctions. What will the AFA do after having helped the club all season to get back to the top division?