The France squad shared the weight of expectation equally on their shoulders at this summer’s World Cup finals. However, the same was not true for Argentina. One man carried that burden alone: Lionel Messi.
Such was the mediocrity of their performances that not even the best soccer player in the world prevented an early exit from the tournament. And one man bore the brunt of the criticism.
Some were deserved: Messi’s penalty in the opening match against Iceland was poor and easily saved. His overall performances failed to meet his own high standards. Instead of inspiring his teammates, Messi found himself dragged down to their levels.
Inevitably, the player’s uneasy relationship with the Argentine public surfaced. Because Messi left his homeland as a youngster and never played professionally for an Argentinean club, he doesn’t have ‘club loyalty’ in the public psyche.
Instead, they see his Barcelona feats from a distance and expect him to achieve the same with the country. It has yet to happen. Carlos Tevez, a former Argentina player, urged Messi not to quit international soccer.
Speaking to ESPN, Tevez told Messi to think of himself, first and foremost. To succeed, he reasoned, the player must be happy. But he quickly added that it wasn’t all down to Messi. The rest of the squad and wider public has a role to play.
“We are wasting a lot of time not having him happy and not being able to give him a hand to achieve that target. I think we are wrong in not being able to help him feel comfortable.
“As a player and as an Argentine I tell him that we need him, that he tries to rest, that he keeps a cool head and that we need him. We need him because he is the soul of Argentina and, as long as he continues playing football, it has to be that way because he is Argentina’s biggest idol and he has to take that responsibility.
“Now [I tell him] to rest, keep a cool head and try to be well, then we need him to take charge and on the pitch.”
Only time will tell if those words are heeded.