An open letter to the Argentine National Football Team:
Hey fellas, how’re you all doing? Tata, it’s been a while. Hope life outside of Barcelona is treating you well.
Congratulations on making it to the final once again. Reaching the final of any tournament is in itself a great achievement, but you guys have now done it three times in a row. Three major finals in three years. Yes, I know that some of you weren’t even in the squad for the 2014 World Cup, but nevertheless, here you are, just one step away from being legends for your country.
I’m sure I won’t have to warn you or remind you of the dangers the team you’re facing poses. They may no longer have the inspiration of Jorge Sampaoli on the sidelines, spurring them on, and are arguably worse off than they were last year. That shouldn’t be a reason for any of you to sit back and be complacent, though. They demolished a good Mexico side a week ago and put two past Colombia before everyone had taken their seats. They’re probably the best passing side in South America, and their press is second-to-none. You guys will have to be at the top of your game: hungry, aware and accurate, if you want a different end result.
As most of you can tell from the title, this article is about one man on your team, who this victory would mean more to than anyone else. A major tournament win would be celebrated wildly all over Argentina, but one man needs this trophy more than any of you do. I really shouldn’t need to tell you who that man is; he’s been your MVP for this tournament and the tournament MVP for the previous two as well; your captain, and the world’s best, Leo Messi.
He has pretty much everything. He’s a proud father of two kids, with his long-term girlfriend who he’s known forever. He plays for the best club in the world, is loved by hundreds of millions of people around the globe and if that wasn’t nearly enough, he’s arguably the greatest player to have set foot on a football pitch. Not a bad state to be, in, is it? And you may be wondering why I’m telling you all of this? Am I rubbing it in to get under your skin? Is this my strange, pretty nonsensical way of making you feel sorry for Messi?
The answer is no to both. The point I’m trying to make here fellas is that the man has everything, but he would probably give up a lot of it for victory tomorrow. All the awards, the accolades, the goals, assists, and trophies, he would probably give up in the blink of an eye for a trophy with his beloved home country. Ever since he pretty much stepped foot on a football pitch, there was only one man he was compared to, who has been somewhat of a thorn in his backside. Diego Maradona led Argentina to their second World Cup all the way back in 1986, and ever since the search has been on to find someone who can emulate him, who can lead them to a period of dominance on the global stage; who can be an idol for them and make them dream.
Messi was destined to be that ever since his first coach put him into a game and he had an instant impact. The shadow of Maradona has loomed over Messi for a long time, but at club level, he’s been able to step out of it to an extent that wouldn’t have been possible for any other player. He is undoubtedly the most successful club player of all time. It’s with Argentina that that shadow has been a huge weight on his shoulders. He hasn’t won a major trophy with the senior team yet, even after two major finals in the last two years, and while initially his failures with you guys could be attributed to his lack of form, in the past two or three years it’s mainly due to a lack of support that he doesn’t have a senior gold medal to his name.
Yup, you read that right guys. You may look around and think that you aren’t to blame, but the reason he’s sitting there desperate to win against Chile on Sunday is because you guys let him down when it counts. Twice in two years, he’s been at the doorstep, knocking, inches away from winning a trophy for his people. Both times, he’s been let down by the very people who should be helping him up, propelling him to the front so he can do what he does his best.
In Brazil, Gonazalo Higauin missed a glorious chance early on and Palacio missed one at the death. Against the Germans, that’s two chances more than you should expect. Gotze scored, the World Cup was Germany’s and Messi was left thinking of what could have been.
Against Chile, a year ago, you would think that there was no way you would throw this away, especially after the way you played in the semi-final. This time, you got closer, to penalties. We all know who the only Argentine scorer in the shoot-out was, don’t we?
You’re at that same stage once again now, against the same team. This is your moment. This is Leo’s moment. This has been his greatest international tournament so far, and he looks fresher and more motivated than ever before. You simply can not mess this up for him anymore; him not having an international trophy to his name, especially after three major finals, will be a football crime of the magnitude of Johan Cruyff not winning a World Cup.
All this victory needs is a lot of focus, a bit of selflessness and a few magical moments from Messi. Every single one of you deserves credit for getting this far, and you’re almost there guys. Keep it together for 90 more minutes,get Messi as involved as possible and the results will be there before your eyes: the Copa Centenario trophy, in all its glory.
90 more minutes, fellas, can make or break the best player in the history of the game, and it’s all in your hands. Give it your all, and don’t let him down.
Image: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty