Copa America 2016: Angel di Maria more important for Argentina than Lionel Messi
Mario Gotze was ecstatic. He ran off towards the crowd and celebrated his goal with more zeal than ever before. And why wouldn’t he? It was his most important goal—it was the goal that was going to win the Germans their fourth World Cup title.
While most cameras were zoomed in towards the German players from different angles, there were some that focused towards the gloomy faces of the Argentina players. Among them, a forlorn figure gave a look of devastation. If only… he could have done something.
No, it was not Lionel Messi—it was Angel di Maria. As he sat in the dug-out, grimacing, fans knew which player Argentina were missing the most. It was not their captain, but the former Real Madrid midfielder.
Another year. Another tournament. Same story. For all the ‘Argentina’s defense is weak’ arguments, it wasn’t their defense that let them down in major tournaments. It was luck; just pure and simple bad luck.
Just 29 minutes into the final against Chile in the 2015 Copa America, di Maria went down. The fear was starting to creep in. Is this the end of our hopes, thought the Argentina fans. It was. The penalty shoot-out loss was just a way to inflict maximum pain.
Two years. Two di Maria-less finals. Two losses.
Let’s go further backwards down the memory lane. As Real Madrid players and fans were celebrating their tenth Champions League title after beating Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the final, the big screen read what everyone already knew: Man of the match—Angel di Maria.
It was the first final he played in a major tournament—and the only one he finished—and he not only ended up winning it, but also earned the man of the match award.
That season, Cristiano Ronaldo might have taken most of the plaudits for finishing as Real’s top scorer yet again, but critics and coaches knew that he wasn’t the most important player in that glorious campaign; it was the Argentine.
Being the best player doesn’t mean that the said player is automatically the most important. In a team sport like football, an out-and-out attacking player is hardly the crux of a system. While Lionel Messi is the best player in the world right now, the honour of being the most important one for Argentina doesn’t fall on him.
Also read: Copa America 2016: Players with most assists
That is a title held by Di Maria and Di Maria alone.
The former Benfica star might not have the scoring ability or the consistency of the Barcelona legend, but his role in the system has more say on how good or bad a team plays.
Lionel Messi can have a great game, but it doesn’t mean that the Argentina team as a whole would have a great game, too. However, when Angel di Maria has an outstanding game, the whole team automatically plays well.
Such is his significance in the team. His selfless fervour and will to sacrifice himself for the team is what makes him Argentina’s most valuable player. If one wants to know the difference between him and Lionel Messi, then all they have to do is just look at how each of them reacts after losing possession.
While Messi, most of the time, just shrugs and hopes the players behind him will win the possession back, di Maria actually runs all the way back to make sure that his mistake doesn’t end up hurting the team.
Swinging to and fro on the pitch, di Maria could be seen winning the ball in one moment, rushing forward with it in the very next and sliding it to his team-mate to score in the final moment. Lionel Messi can make things happen only when the ball is delivered to his feet—and di Maria makes things happen by delivering the ball to Lionel Messi’s feet.
In their opening clash against Chile in the ongoing Copa, the PSG midfielder won the man of the match award after scoring and assisting a goal each to give his team a 2-1 win. Lionel Messi wasn’t able to play in that fixture due to an injury, but it didn’t matter—di Maria was there.
He ran all over the pitch, covered every inch of grass there was, won the ball back, helped his team-mates win the ball back, was ever present in both defense and attack, provided slick passes to others… he was massive, he was di Maria.
It is these qualities that make him such a revered player. There is no doubt that Lionel Messi is the best Argentine player, but in terms of influence, Di Maria is the leader of the team – someone whose presence wins you tournaments.