Life after Messi. What next for Argentina?
An agile, diminutive finisher. A pacy hard working winger. A no nonsense midfield destroyer. Surely a recipe for success for any football team at any level. Add to that an exceptionally talented footballer blessed with a creative touch and a deadly finish and you’ve got world beaters. Yet 3 competitive finals in 3 years without a single trophy. Surely something is wrong. Can lady luck ever be so cruel?
Yes, the team in question is the star-studded Argentine National Football team. Gifted with big name players like Aguero, Di Maria, and Mascherano; so much so that other stars like Dybala and Tevez didn’t even get a look into the Copa 2016 squad. And there is Messi…
Said to be sent by the footballing Gods, while others consider him God himself. Messi is definitely one of the greatest if not the greatest of all time. As Argentina skipper, however, he has been unable to make full use of his powers. Instrumental in runs to the finals of 2014 World Cup, Copa America 2015 and Copa America Centenario 2016 bagging goals and assists but failing when it matters the most including a second defeat to Chile.
However, to great shock and horror of the entire world football community, it was announced that Messi was to retire from international football just after losing the finals to Chile. Not only this! To rub salt into the wounds there were unconfirmed reports that Di Maria, Higuain and Biglia would all follow Messi into international retirement. Arguably a Golden generation of Argentine football, that too led by Messi. It would be a huge adversity for the Argentine Football Association. But as the old gives way to new, how prepared are Argentina for a new generation of footballers?
Who can fill the void?
Messi is irreplaceable on a man to man basis. With the added loss of Mascherano, Aguero and others it is the right time for young players to step up. Argentina are well known for producing excellent home grown talent who are sooner or later picked up by European clubs. Thus, the focus should be on making a team from scratch.
To lead the Argentina team to a new dawn the first names that’ll spring up in anyone’s mind would be Paulo Dybala and Mauro Icardi. With the loss of an entire forward line, these young strikers plying their trade in the Italian League should be the first ones to step up.
Paulo Dybala was a big name exclusion at this year’s Copa. That’s quite something remarkable for a 22-year-old who has shown superb growth since his move to Juventus last season. After a breakthrough 2014-15 season with Palmero in which he finished with 10 goals and 13 assists, he was snapped up by Juventus. This season he finished with 16 goals and 10 assists, just showing how much of an all-round footballer he is. Adept at scoring and creating, he may fall short on comparing to Messi but has age on his side to rise to a league of his own.
One of the most lethal young forwards in Europe, Mauro Icardi plies his trade at Italian giants Inter Milan. A product of Barcelona’s famous youth academy, Icardi has been fundamental in keeping Inter up after a recent slump. He gave a return of 46 goals in 94 games for Inter and helping them qualify for Europe in 4th position. Being the Inter Milan captain at such a young age, surely he has what it takes to lead Argentina and take up Messi’s mantle.
Keeping the focus on young Argentine forwards, there are Angel Correa, a deep-lying forward, and Luciano Vietto, a striker. Both ply their trade under Argentine great Diego Simeone for Atletico Madrid. A reputation for having some of the most feared strikers from time to time surely contributes to the Argentine team building.
Luciano Vietto has been slowly introduced into the Atletico set up at the Vincente Calderon. Signed from Racing club, he was initially loaned out to Villareal. An impressive goal tally of 20 from 48 games saw him return. Below Griezmann, Torres, and others in the pecking order, he has been restricted to the bench largely. The 22-year-old only managed 3 goals in 28 games but is a talented player and certainly one who should be stepped up into the Senior Argentina national team.
Angel Correa moved to Spain in 2014 coming through the San Lorenzo youth academy and helping them win the Argentine League title. The 20-year-old has scored 9 goals from 24 appearances for Simeone’s side. His flawless first touch along with his speed and technical skills are just what the Argentine national team is begging for with the departure of so many stars.
Another Atletico player for the future under Diego Simeone is 22-year-old defensive midfielder Matias Kranevitter. One of the hottest defensive midfield talents in the world he grew up at River Plate and only recently moved to Europe. Surely, one player who will ably fill in the big shoes of Javier Mascherano in the destroyer role.
A Zidane-like return?
The retirement decision were all very sudden and untimely. Mostly unconfirmed and only media speculation based on the player’s comments. Never has there been such a drain from such a good side. However, footballing cycles must continue and surely Argentina can cope with the loss.
Young Argentine players will constantly be under the scanner, now that it is time to take up the mantle. This will be much to the enjoyment of everyone who watches from starry-eyed fans to critical neutrals. Just as we have seen this generation of Argentine footballers blossom into one of the best in the world, this trend continues.
Messi may yet come back for the World Cup in Russia ala Zidane making a comeback for the 2006 World Cup. The defensive structure hopefully remains largely the same. As and when these youngsters are integrated into the side the squad only becomes better and better. Hopefully, all the rumors regarding the glut of retirements have the dense fog shrouding them removed for the better. The best of the current crop and the exciting new talent will surely help Argentina perform one better and win the World Cup which they more than deserve.
Whatever happens, it’s safe to say the future of Argentine football is in safe hands!