Let’s take a minute to talk about Lionel Messi.
The Argentine phenomenon has been at the pinnacle of world football since making his debut for Barcelona in 2006, winning 32 trophies with the club along the way. His mesmerising skill and verve have seen being named World Footballer of the Year a record five times.
He’s scored an incredible 383 goals in 418 appearances for Barca, including 91 in a calendar year and supernatural solo efforts against Bilbao and Getafe. When you consider that the 31-year-old has also netted 64 goals for his country, it is not surprising that he is talked about as being the Greatest of all Time and even appeared with a goat during a pre-World Cup campaign.
Naturally, much was expected of him as Argentina captain and talisman ahead of the World Cup, but sadly, this seems a burden he is unable to bear.
READ MORE: World Cup 2018: Only one Cristiano Ronaldo
Before Argentina’s humiliating 3-0 loss to Croatia last night, the 31-year-old appeared a broken man, rubbing his head with his arm during the anthems and wearing the expression of a terrified rabbit.
Unaided by his teammates, he cut a forlorn figure on the field and was entirely anonymous over the course of the 90 minutes – inexplicably, for a man of his gargantuan talent.
The man who has enthralled football fans for more than a decade could do nothing as Croatia tore Argentina apart. Ante Rebic took advantage of a goalkeeping howler and volleyed home before Luka Modric’s sublime strike from distance and then Ivan Rakitic was left with a simple tap-in to complete the last rites.
Such was Messi’s anonymity that it took me a long while to realise that he was even on the field. He should have been subbed off early – it’s not like the Argentina is devoid of attacking talent. Juventus pair Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, and PSG’s Angel di Maria were available on the bench
Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli gave some insight into Messi’s woes after the match, saying that his teammates refused to gel with him and make the most of his undoubted brilliance.
“Because of the reality of the Argentina squad, it sort of clouds Leo’s brilliance. Leo is limited because the team doesn’t gel with him as ideally, it should,” he explained.
It seems a strange thing for a manager, who is responsible for galvanising his team, to say, and relieves Messi, as skipper, of any accountability for his poor performance.
The result leaves the Albiceleste in a precarious position and their destiny out of their hands. If Iceland beat Nigeria today, Argentina’s World Cup dreams are all but over. Hell, even the Nigerians, who failed to impress in their opening game, will be eyeing a win against the Argentinians after last night’s performance.
Could this be the last time we ever see the great Lionel Messi at an international tournament?