He is among the greatest players of all time and among the top two of the current generation. Dependence on a player of his caliber is no shameful acceptance. He has the ability to create & score goals out of nothing, and most often he does both simultaneously. Messi is capable of turning the fortunes of his side single-handedly, and is capable of doing that for Argentina this tournament as well. So is Messi pulling Argentina through the 2014 FIFA World Cup? Not quite.
Argentina have other important players in their squad, some less in the spotlight than Messi. As the games showed yesterday, Fernando Gago can have a crucial role in the side, away from the limelight, but absolutely essential to keep the balance in Sabella’s set-up. Despite taking an early lead and going in at half-time with it intact, the coach clearly saw a problem with Bosnia easily getting into the game and controlling it for large parts. Off went Campagnaro at half-time, in came the Boca Juniors midfielder as the coach shifted from a five-man defence and added an extra man in midfield. This turned the game on it’s head. Bosnia’s control & organisation was gone, with Argentina seeing much more of the ball and preventing their opponents from playing the ball into key areas.
What Gago does effectively is that he marshals the midfield area well providing cover to his defenders. Although it wasn’t on show yesterday, he has the ability to keep an opposition playmaker quiet throughout the ninety. He’s crucial in defending in wide areas and this will become more evident as the tournament proceeds with players like Di Maria not quite as solid defensively in those areas when attack-minded full-backs in Zabaleta & Marcos Rojo move forward.
On Di Maria, he too is vital for this Argentina side but many were quick to criticise his performance yesterday. True for Argentina he might not be as spectacular as he is for his club team in Madrid, but his role is still crucial. Not only is he given defensive duties when not in possession, but his ability to run at the defence opens up pockets of space for the players in the attacking third (Messi, Aguero etc) with the opposition defenders then going to close down Di Maria leaving the others open.
With Higuain too we saw how the change at half-time positively effected the South American’s display. Maxi Rodriguez obviously wasn’t stationed as high up as Higuain would go on to, thus the positive effect in the attacking third for Argentina was evident. Adding an extra man up there again took the burden away from Messi allowing him to work into spaces. Higuain had a crucial role to play in that Messi goal as well moving to one side and playing a one-two dragging a defender or two with him.
But the focal point, the key player, the player they look to remains Lionel Messi. Miralem Pjanic was doing a remarkable job in the first half with keeping the Barca man fairly quiet, and as many journalists world-wide would be ready to pen down an aritcle on why Messi doesn’t perform at the big stage, it all changed. As the game wore on and with those substitutions Messi settled in better. The changes made at half-time had a clear intent which directly effected Messi’s play. The system revolves around him with Sabella not only looking to improve his side’s approach but more importantly, finding ways to ensure Messi can have a better influence. Do that and you’re bound to get a positive result.
So while Messi is the focal point, there are a lot of other factors that contribute to his impact on the side. Without those substitutions taking place, we wouldn’t have had Messi making much of an influence, there wouldn’t be a second World Cup goal for him (although that was individual brilliance), this article wouldn’t have been quite as positive as it is. There is a dependence on Messi, that is borderline worrying, but the impact that others have shouldn’t be over-looked.
Argentina will make it through the group stage and are expected to go further in this competition, failing to do so will be nothing short of a disaster. So while Messi will take the plaudits, the photos and the headlines, spare a thought for players like Gago & Di Maria who allow it to happen.
This article was written by Sami Faizullah. Editor-in-chief of outsideoftheboot.com