Copa America 2016: Lionel Messi, a man on a mission to break his international tournament jinx
It has been 23 years since Argentina last won the Copa America, but before June comes to a close, they could put an end to their misery-strewn, drawn-out wait – and Lionel Messi is sure to be crucial to their success or failure.
Many words have been written about the Argentine sensation down through the years, most of them superlatives always falling short of the right phrases to justify his brilliance. He has captured the essence of how to play with Latin fire, dynamism and a controlled spirit that has seen him take home the FIFA Ballon d’Or award a record five times. It’s also seen him solidify his place among the pantheon of greats and become the spellbinding creative force of one of Europe’s best ever teams, Barcelona.
The diminutive, darting playmaker has long since earned a reputation as one of the best players of all time, but his lack of success in the blue and white jersey of his home country has seen many continue to question just how many streets ahead of the rest he really is. For a small portion of critics, he won’t be able to lay claim to his moniker as the greatest of all time until he wins an international major (his Olympic gold aside) with La Albiceleste.
In truth, to downgrade his brilliance for a shortcoming on one frontier would be more than a little harsh, but it’s nonetheless fair to say that if he doesn’t manage it before he retires, he will always see it as a lost opportunity. Which is why Messi and company will need to ensure they don’t miss out again when they face Chile in the grand final.
Snapshots of the no.10 on the international stage have been ones of dejection, missed chances and, sometimes, underwhelming personal performances as he has failed to get near the highs he has experienced at club level.
Messi is a player who loves to defy expectation – can he do it again?
Before he first signed for Barca (on a napkin, as the romantic fairy-tale goes) way back at the age of 13 after having impressed on a trial, Messi was an astonishingly small kid who possessed an equally astonishing skill for football.
At the risk of overdoing it, it could be said with a fair degree of rationality that in the same manner people were struck by his lack of height growing up, they found his abundance of youthful brilliance gob-smacking. Having suffered from a now well-known growth hormone disorder (GHD) growing up, the former Newell’s Old Boys star had to overcome some staggering odds from the very start, so he’s always been used to defying expectation.
Not many would have dared tip Messi to go on and become the greatest player in the world so early on. After all, both River Plate and Old Boys decided it wasn’t even worth forking out around $900 a month to pay for his GHD medication as they let him slip through their fingers, and yet he has since climbed to the top of world football anyway.
A lot has changed since he was a fresh-faced whippersnapper joining La Blaugrana with so much to learn and plenty of goals to score. The pressure has increased, the stages he has inhabited have become larger, flashier and the prizes at the end of it all have become increasingly invaluable. What has not changed has been Messi’s dedication, single-mindedness and his ability to dazzle.
Those traits will once more prove to be crucial to him when Argentina attempt to topple Chile at the Metlife Stadium because as he has failed so regularly to give fans of the 14-time Copa America champions any silverware of note to cheer about, there will be plenty of doubt weighing against him as he attempts to push for glory
His 2016 displays hint at career-defining performance
It has been an interesting year for Messi.
Losing out on another treble, as well as the chance to become the first team to successfully defend their Champions League crown, Barcelona were denied a historic few months as they allowed an uncharacteristic dip in performance to scupper all their hopes in double-quick time. Still, they managed to pick up a remarkable double and played some fantastic stuff along the way. The player himself was implicated in an extraordinary tax fraud case in the courts.
There was a lot going on, to be frank, and it can’t have been easy for the 28-year-old to keep his head amidst it all but he did a pretty good job of it.
Having been denied a special achievement by some feisty competitors (Atletico Madrid chief among them), there is a sense that something else is coming along and that Messi has what it takes to seize the moment. Where is this feeling coming from? Well, aside from his innate ability, his recent performances are a reliable barometer that he is in the mood to finally conjure the goods for his country – just take a look at his incredible free kick goal against the United States of America in the Copa semi-final:
That messi freekick was https://t.co/jOEI1EXumF— Rule'm Sports (@RULEMsports) June 22, 2016
Make no mistake, this rhetoric gets trundled out nearly every time Argentina get a whiff of immortality, but it looks like he has finally announced himself as their leader, their talisman and, most importantly, their primary goal-getter.
Indeed, it was that unstoppable dead ball which allowed him to become their leading marksman and overtake Gabriel Batistuta in the all-time charts to net his 55th goal and has laid down a marker to everyone once again, just when people might have started to think that he couldn’t possibly achieve anything greater than he already has.
Anyone with half an idea about what Chile are capable of will tell us that they will put up a stern challenge to Argentina on Sunday night/Monday morning, but it’s important to highlight just how important Messi will be to swatting that opposition aside. Intriguingly, it was his return to the fold earlier in the year which saw the Argentines overcome none other than La Roja with a crucial assist in a World Cup qualifier, and while he didn’t feature in their 2-1 win at the beginning of this competition, his presence in the squad certainly inspired his team-mates – so when he takes to the pitch, you can be sure he’ll rise to the occasion and do his utmost once again.
The symmetry is teasing.