Monday, January 22, 2018

Messi debate rages on

World Cup is over, but...


COMFORTING: Argentina’s Lionel Messi, right, is comforted by Argentina head coach Diego Maradona following the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal against Germany at the Green Point stadium in Cape Town, South Africa. Germany won 4-0. —Photo: AP

Mark Fraser

Four days after a gripping finale to a memorable tournament, which was decided, fittingly, with a brilliant piece of technical skill by one Mario Goetze, people are still wondering how to face life post-World Cup.

In the days following Brazil 2014, people are slowly getting back into the routines interrupted by quadrennial competition—I’ve heard at least a few people ask ‘okay, what do we do now?’—some already have their sights set on the France 2016 European Championships; others are placating themselves with a deluge of transfer rumours that invariably follow the world’s biggest football tournament.

Leo Messi has also been a major talking point on news sites and social media alike, not just because of his near miss in the World Cup final, but also after he snapped up the Golden Ball for the player of the tournament. Few would argue with Manuel Neuer’s selection as the showpiece’s best goalkeeper, and James Rodriguez selected himself as Golden Boot winner with the most goals in the tournament (six).

For all his supreme talent, though, Messi has not quite earned the respect of critics worldwide judging by the plethora of objections to his award. Even the great Diego Armando Maradona, to whom Messi is invariably compared and who has continually been vocal in support of his younger countryman, believed the prize was a marketing gimmick.

“I would give heaven and earth to Leo, but when marketing people want him to win something he didn’t (deserve to) win, it is unfair,’’ Maradona was quoted as saying. “I could see that he didn’t want to go up and collect it (the award).’’

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he was “surprised” at Messi’s win too. Surely Messi’s performances merited recognition, right? He led Argentina to the final and deep into extra time where their run was curtailed by Goetze’s wonder strike that ended the South Americans’ resistance seven minutes short of penalties. He scored four goals, provided valuable assists and was at, or near the heart of Argentina’s most enterprising attacks.

You could also point at Manuel Neuer’s standout showings between the sticks that kept Germany alive in difficult moments. Thomas Mueller also scored more goals (five) than Messi (four) and had multiple assists that were invaluable in taking Germany to the title as he opened the scoring for the winners on three occasions.

If you measure it purely on goals, then the accolade has to go to Rodriguez. Thing is, Messi will always be criticised due to the lofty standards by which he is measured. When looked at alongside Maradona, he will always be the guy that was technically just as good, but has not won a World Cup. That should not be used as a yardstick of greatness. Most players never put their hands on the World Cup, and fewer still do it more than once; not since Brazil in 1962 has a team repeated as champions.

What Messi has achieved no existing player is likely to repeat in coming years. His ability to persevere with an uncanny consistency has already put him in another echelon of elites. But those performances are also the ones that turned good World Cup into an ordinary one by Messi’s standards.

In my humble opinion on the subject, if it boils down to the best player on show throughout the tournament, I’d give it to Rodriguez. He scored in every match for Colombia, even under duress against Brazil, and shone so brightly that few missed the injured Radamel Falcao.

This brings me to the next issue of player transfers, with Rodriguez likely to leave out Falcao and Monaco for a place in Real Madrid’s line up, which could see Angel Di Maria move to France’s PSG. What blows my mind is what seemed like a horrible World Cup for “Chewy” Luis Suarez has turned out to be the most valuable bite ever taken.

Suarez missed his native Uruguay’s Round of 16 encounter for his bite on Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini and they were subsequently ousted from the tournament by Colombia. Even though he was banned from “all footballing activities” for four months, he was rewarded with a massive US$128 million move to Barcelona from Liverpool, with a ‘bite clause’ included, of course. Talk about expensive taste for both club and striker!

The cash madness will no doubt continue until the transfer window ends in September. This being a World Cup year, where players have had a greater opportunity to raise their stock and impress potential buyers, will only intensify the tendency for silly transfer sums.

Even before the World Cup, David Luiz became the most expensive defender with a price tag of 50 million pounds from Chelsea to Paris St Germain, although some would question that cost after his indifferent World Cup performance. With that said, I’ll be keeping my eye on all the chopping and changing on the international scene, all the while hoping our local league can stay sufficiently afloat to support our national team efforts here in T&T.

I’ll wrap up my World Cup column with thanks to all the readers who followed us through the many thrills of an amazing tournament. I enjoyed every moment of it.