A Nation Bites its Tongue; Reports Say Messi is Argentinian; Maradona Schedules Showdown

There’s nothing in the papers or on TV in Argentina today to match journalistically what Messi did yesterday. However, this is interesting enough in itself since deliberate opinion is more honoured by crack whores on the street corners of my lovely neighbourhood than in the media where Messi has been concerned. Just the other week Jorge Messi was complaining, correctly, that his son is “mistreated” in Argentina – and his position. Olé, in my opinion, have been among the worst offenders in this regard, or at least the most schizophrenic, with many a snide headline and bitter comment, as if Messi were to blame for the chaotic mismanagement that marrs the Argentine Football Association – and almost every other facet of life in his homeland.

Today, however, they have finally written a few short pieces spelling out that “The problem now is Maradona’s” and appeal for fans to “Stop attacking him [for] not singing the anthem, for never crying or kicking out at a player when winning became impossible; to stop doubting him as the best player in the world and running him down for never having won a World Cup like Maradona; to leave off the cheap comments that he only scores against Getafe and Racing de Santander, or that he’d be nothing without Xavi and Iniesta; enough running him down just because you think it’s cooler to snipe than praise. Enjoy it: Messi’s Argentinian. The whole world loves him. How much would you have paid to be in the Camp Nou last night? Or would you have shouted “Let’s see you do that for Argentina!”?

I must admit that I have been marching up and down along the seaside here in Mardel for the past while screaming at anyone who comes within biting distance about the play-Messi-where-he-plays-for-Barcelona campaign, frequently hammering Diego for playing him in the Duff 2002 position (forcing him to turn to Big brother and other whimsical things). However, he doesn’t seem to have a position in Barcelona these days. Now that Henry is gone more or less, Barça have abandoned the 4-3-3: Pedro plays on both wings (a false winger?) and Messi plays everywhere. (Has he learned from Ronaldo’s inspired goals-win-games revelation?). All four goals last night came through the middle and he says he likes it since he’s nearer to Xavi and Iniesta. So it looks like the unthinkable is true: Maradona knows more about football than me.

And the inevitable comparisons begin again, Olé have a good piece today by Franco Predazzi on the Maradona/Messi thigh-stroke:

“Lionel Messi has already done what no other Argentine footballer has done in the last 20 years: seriously raised the possibility that there exists someone in this solar system capable of being better than Maradona. For you don’t have to go back too far to recall a time when no-one was willing to say that Diego could be bested, or at least that there could be someone who would delight in such an equally soul-stirring manner.

“Therefore, the least important thing today is whether Messi will be better than Maradona. He’s already done it all. Yeah, yeah, I already know – he still needs to win a World Cup, score two goals so brilliant and so different against England just four years after the war (let’s hope there isn’t another, right?), stand up to half of Italy (the well-heeled half), fight with the president of FIFA. Neither has he made any mistakes and had to pay the price – but then coin such a stonking phrase as “La pelota no se mancha” (“You can’t corrupt the football / “The football can’t be stained”). All this and more they ask. As if it was straightforward, as if in all this time a load of people of every nationality hadn’t tried it already. He’s barely even 22 years old. Twen-ty two.

“Time will be the judge. For while he’s venerated for what he does while wearing the colours of Barcelona and criticised for his appearances in the celeste y blanco, time hasn’t stopped. We have this moment, this now, so volatile, so ephemeral, this now that we would do well to appraise: it’s about the greatest moment (or one of the greatest moments, perhaps, since with Messi you never know) of a wonderful football player. Just as Maradona gave us Argentines a sublime adrenaline rush every time he touched the ball, with every dribble and brush stroke, Messi makes our pupils dilate, makes our pulse accelerate, spreading magic and making us proud. Since the guy no-one can stop is Argentinian. Just like Maradona. Isn’t that enough?”

After scoring the glorious lob against Mexico in the Copa América 2007

Praise Abounds, Bring the adjectives

Lance: “Messi, Messi, Messi and Messi: Show and semifinal.”

Globo Esporte: “From another planet.”

As: “Messi’s scary: he’s not from this world.”

Sport: “Don’t say football, say Messi.”

Marca: “The World at his feet.”

Gazzetta Dello Sport: Messi’s from another galaxy.”

Diario de hoy (EL Salvador): “Messi’s happy, the rest of the world is, too.”

Diario el Observador (Uruguay): “Messi has fun and puts Barça in the semifinals.”

The Sun: “Leo Slayer.”

Diario Última hora (Paraguay): “Messi’s written another page in golden letters.”

Xavi: “Messi’s the kind of player that comes around every 25 to 30 years.”

Juan Roman Riquelme: “We’re lucky Messi’s Argentinian.”

Diego Maradona: “Messi’s the best in the world, he’s at a very select level; he’s playing football with Jesus right now. There comes a time when [fame] invades your solitude, your private life, but you’ve got to dig in so that loneliness doesn’t lead you to do the kind of things that I did. That’s what I spoke about with the boy. [….] I told him that my career’s finished. Now he’s got to do his own thing, and when it’s all over then we’ll see who’s the best of all time. Lio’s on the right track. You can tell he’s fired up. We spoke for two hours in a hotel in Barcelona and we sorted out a lot of things. I don’t think I tried to advise him but I did tel him about what I went through when i started out.. [….] We mustn’t forget that many people said terrible things about Messi. I saw him sleep, play on Playstation, eat, while they wouldn’t even sell me rotten fish! Now everyone’s oh so happy for him, […] and of course i’m overjoyed. Finally the whole Maradona/Pelé thing will be put to bed and the best thing is that Messi’s Argentinian. Everyone – Brazilians, Germans, Spaniards, they’re all going to have to face up to the fact that the best in the world was born in our country.”

Francisco ‘Pancho’ Ferraro (Argentine manager): “Lionel Messi showed that he’s just a kid who enjoys playing football.”

Arsène Wenger: “Messi’s like a Playstation player.”

Marcelo Sottile (Olé journalist): “If Messi’s a Playstation player, he’s got the joystick.”

Pep Guardiola: “Messi is a special player, at an extremely high level, and he made the difference.”

Lionel Messi: “I’m lucky that in the dressing room I have great team mates and say really nice things about me. I’m very happy, just like the other games where I scored three goals. […] But we’ve got to keep improving. Today it was my turn; the other day it was Ibra’s, another it was Pedro’s.. the important thing is to score. […] [Pinta [the sub keeper] said I wasn’t going to score as many goals last year. We made a bet and that’s why I celebrated the last goal with him. […]

We’ve got to enjoy this and stay calm. We’ll think about Madrid when the day comes. We’ve got two very tough competitions to play and we’ll fight to the end to win them both. […] Inter will be a very difficult game, completely different to the group games. I’ve got a lot of friends there, ex-teammates and teammates from the national team.”

Shame several of them won’t be there to accompany him.

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