Will Lionel Messi ever be loved in Argentina like Diego Maradona?

Messi Maradona

Lionel Messi. Arguably the greatest footballer to ever grace the pitch. To spectators across the world, his phenomenal skill and record goal-scoring feats for F.C. Barcelona have made him a revered figure, a blessing whose talent is one which can never be replicated. But in his native Argentina, the world’s greatest player is seen in a different light or, as it were, a shadow. That shadow is in the shape of the nation’s favourite footballing son, Diego Maradona, a genius whose impact transcended football and filtered through to everyday life, garnering the adulation of the masses. Many in Argentina, despite Messi’s achievements, have not taken to him in the same way they embraced Maradona. This perception will have undoubtedly amplified following Argentina’s defeat to Germany in the World Cup final, with Messi failing to make a great impact during the match. So why have the people not yet fully embraced the phenomenon that is Messi?

The reasons for this reluctance are varied and complex. Argentineans feel, firstly, that the superstar is not Argentinean enough. Argentines highlight that Messi left Argentina at a very young age (13 years old) to join Barcelona and has not yet played for an Argentinean club in his career. Meanwhile, Maradona began his career in his native land, staying for six years before leaving for Napoli aged 22. Messi, rather than being an Argentine, is more of a Catalan, with no real Argentine identity, taken from the nation much too soon. He doesn’t sing the national anthem – a tell-all sign to the people of Messi’s perceived lack of commitment to the nation. But his accent keeps people from saying that he is completely un-Argentinean, a sentiment summarised by Argentine journalist Martin Mazur who told the New York Times; “The greatest gift for Messi during these years is that he never lost the Argentine accent. You can’t imagine what it would have been (like) for him if he hadn’t had it. They probably would have killed him.”

Argentineans claim they cannot identify with Messi in the same way they could with Maradona, because of their respective socio-economic backgrounds. Maradona lived in poverty and “developed his talent in the mud” as it were, whilst Messi was from a lower-middle class background and was “born surrounded by cotton”. Maradona is truly of the people, unlike his more privileged successor. This sense of disillusionment is summed up by cab driver Dario Torrisi, telling the New York Times: “We’ve always liked how Messi plays, but we don’t know who he is.”

Argentina’s current number 10 has had to encounter accusations from ordinary Argentines that he shows little passion for the nation or personality and has failed to deliver for the national team, compared to Maradona. Argentineans have historically preferred their heroes to be bombastic in their actions and their national loyalty and compared to Maradona, who always wore his heart on his sleeve, Messi is rather dull, unable to captivate the nation in the way Maradona was able to. Maradona’s career encapsulated the romance, passion and controversy (drugs, health problems, etc.) of the man himself that the people evidently love, typified by his role in leading Argentina to glory in the 1986 World Cup.

Messi’s performances for Argentina are also brought into question. At international level, he has performed nowhere near the level he does for Barcelona; he’s scored 42 goals in 93 caps, a good haul for any other player but perceivably low considering his feats for Barcelona (he is the club’s all-time leading scorer with 357 goals in 430 games). This is despite the fact that Messi has more international goals than Maradona, but the scale of his success at club level has generated almost extreme levels of expectation from the people for him to deliver on the international stage. Clearly, the expectation is for Messi to dominate international football as much as he does club football.

The accusation that he has failed to deliver is perhaps a fair statement, given that he has generally failed to inspire his teammates to glory as did Maradona – at the 2010 World Cup, Messi was distinctly average. Single-handedly guiding your nation to World Cup glory is no mean feat, but Maradona defied all odds in 1986, immortalising himself across the country and world. Messi has proved unable to repeat Maradona’s achievement against Germany in 2014 and until he does, in spite of his achievements, this will be another barrier preventing his ascension to godly status amongst the Argentinean masses.

Whether Messi will be truly accepted in Argentina is a matter in which only time will tell. The people’s criticisms show a complex relationship with the world’s greatest player that will take time, and a World Cup triumph, to address.

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Who are football’s most overrated managers?

In the world of football, the word ‘overrated’ is a loaded term, most commonly associated with players; whether they cost too much or show glimpses of talent which increase their overall value, football has had its fair share of overhyped individuals. Rarely does this ‘overrated’ spotlight shine on managers, some of whom are extremely lucky to be in the job they are currently in. A title win or an attractive brand of football can sometimes be blinding to the reality that managerial skills are just as exaggerated as those of players. With that said, who are football’s most overrated managers?

Luiz Felipe Scolari

Granted, Scolari can still revel in the fact that he led a Brazil side packed with superstars to World Cup glory in 2002. But rub this achievement away from his CV and what remains is a man who barely lasts a year in any job he has, a record that stretches way back to his managerial debut back in 1982. The 65-year-old has a reputation for getting the best out of his star players but thinly veiled underneath this is an incessant overreliance on those players to bail him out of sticky situations. Take this summer’s World Cup, where the former Chelsea boss presided over a criminally average (tactically and personnel wise) Selecao, only to be dragged into the semi-finals by the talents of Neymar and Thiago Silva. They met Germany and…the rest is history. Great work Big Phil.

Andre Villas-Boas

He was seen as the next great managerial hope, after guiding Porto to an unprecedented domestic treble in 2010/2011 whilst remaining unbeaten and at only 34 years old, Villas-Boas had achieved what many managers never will. This glowing record brought him to Chelsea where in spectacular fashion, he flopped, unable to neither become the dominant voice in a divided dressing room nor impose his methods on the players. Tottenham last season provided an opportunity to start from scratch, maintain his reputation after an initial baptism of fire in England but there he was again, alienating his players and the fans until a crushing 5-0 defeat to Liverpool sealed his departure. As the Portuguese has cruelly learned, no amount of success can prepare you for the pitfalls of the Premier League. He now has the chance to rebuild his damaged credentials with Zenit St. Petersburg. Good luck to him.

Roy Hodgson

The 66-year-old has shown himself to be a shrewd, accomplished (ish) coach at both domestic and international level, but after the Three Lions’ woeful 2014 World Cup and the recent appointment of Wayne Rooney as captain, quite simply, he should not be England manager. His tactics were absurdly conservative considering the youthful, raw talent he possessed – the clearest indication that he is not willing to take any real risks. England does not need a manager backward in his methods unless they are aiming for mediocrity in the coming years and with Hodgson at the helm, that is all they will get.

Laurent Blanc

The Frenchman is a talented manager, having won French titles with two different teams. But perhaps his talent was a little overstated when he was named manager of the national team in 2010 with the squad in disarray after that year’s World Cup, an uneventful tenure on the pitch. Blanc maintained his reputation by taking PSG to the league title last season but in a league where PSG are the dominant side boasting some of the best players in the world, and inheriting Carlo Ancelotti’s blueprint, this is expected of him. He wasn’t even PSG’s first choice.

Sam Allardyce

Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that the West Ham boss is one of the highest earning managers in world football at 2.95m, more than both Roy Hodgson and Laurent Blanc. If this doesn’t make jaw drops, nothing will. Other than establishing Bolton Wanderers as a prominent Premier League side in the mid 2000s, it is hard to decipher exactly what else Allardyce has done to warrant his reputation as one of the better English managers. Abundant criticism (particularly from Hammers fans) about his long-ball style of play probably doesn’t help his case, but for the amount of money the manager earns, the team should do a little better.

Why Kurt Zouma can become Chelsea’s new John Terry

When Chelsea fought off many of Europe’s top clubs to secure the services of up and coming centre back Kurt Zouma from French club Saint Etienne for 12 million in January of this year, manager Jose Mourinho must have been congratulating himself. His club had just purchased a player who, earlier this year, was named by The Guardian as one of the ten most promising players in Europe; a defensive colossus who towers over most grown men. While the Frenchman was loaned back to Saint Etienne for the remainder of the 2013/14 season, he has now linked up with the Chelsea squad during pre-season to begin his fight for a first team place. Breaking up the defensive partnership of club captain Terry and Gary Cahill will be no easy feat, given how impressive and in sync they were last campaign, but at 19 years old Zouma possesses the defensive and physical qualities (and time is on his side) to become the natural heir to Terry’s spot, and dominate the Chelsea defence for a long period of time.

Zouma had been in the Saint Etienne first team since he was 17 and made 24 appearances last season, a testament to his reliability at the centre of defence. At 6’2”, Zouma has tremendous physical attributes: a strong upper body, incredible leaping ability (at times last season he was unbeatable in the air) and unlimited stamina. The 19 year old won 77.1% of headers he contested last season, considerably more than both Terry (65%) and Cahill (70%), which shows that his real strength lies in anticipating and then clearing potential attacks. While not being particularly quick this combination of height, mobility and power make him instantly suited to the physicality of the Premier League, not only because he can impose his physical strength to break down attacks with relative ease, but also because he is capable of slowing the game down and dictating play.

Like Chelsea’s back two, the France under-21 international likes to play from a deep defensive line to avoid the chance of the back four being exposed and minimising the probability of any of the defence being caught out of position. As an understudy to Terry, Zouma will have the best education on how to improve this side of his game and become an all-round defender. Clearly then, Zouma is in great company to become a world-class centre back in the mould of Chelsea’s long-serving leader. The young defender has also shown exceptional leadership qualities in his relatively short career, organising the Saint Etienne back four much in the same manner as Terry for Chelsea over the years. Such attributes on his young shoulders make him the perfect long-term replacement for ex-England captain Terry.

The Saint Etienne youth graduate is still a raw talent however, not quite the finished product like Terry, and prone to many mistakes; on some occasions last season he failed to close down attacks which led to goal-scoring opportunities for the opposition as well as goals. This can perhaps be pinned on his age (and naiveté perhaps) but as he gets older and more experienced, this may not be as much of a problem. Having physical prowess must be complimented by positional awareness and the latter was lacking at times last campaign but his potential is definitely still intact.

He also showed his overzealous nature at Saint Etienne when he forcibly tackled Sochaux forward Thomas Guerbert, leaving him with a broken leg and dislocated ankle. Zouma was sent off and later banned for 10 games as a result. Consequently his form suffered and when his ban ended he had become the club’s third choice centre back, hindering him from performing at his best and improving. But he will have learned to show restraint when attempting to take the ball and with Jose Mourinho’s sometimes ultra-defensive approach (or parking two buses as it were) he will have installed in the young Frenchman the discipline to avoid such punishment.

It is highly unlikely that Zouma will force his way into the Chelsea first team right away; the Terry-Cahill partnership is too established and strong to allow for his introduction. But what he represents is a stride towards the future and his impressive physical qualities will make him a Chelsea star for years to come. Taking Terry’s spot would represent the first goal towards this aim and Zouma is more than capable of doing so.

Why have Tottenham been written off for a top four place?

2011/12 – the last time Tottenham reached the promised land of the Champions League, only for their place to be cruelly snatched away by Chelsea’s dramatic victory over Bayern Munich in the final. Since that season Spurs have generally struggled to cement a position in the Premier League’s top four and critics have written off their chances this time around, a resolve which will have been strengthened by Spurs’ disappointing performance in their win at West Ham on the opening day of the new season. On this basis and that of last season it is hard to disagree. Tottenham in 2013/14, under Andre Villas-Boas and then Tim Sherwood, represented a young, bright and vibrant future but with worrying short-term results. Bringing in seven new faces last summer to make up for the loss of star man Gareth Bale was the first mistake, made worse by the incapability of the managers to get the best out of the new boys. Spurs were a confused side for most of the last campaign, generally unorganised and uncomfortable under the tactics employed by both Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood and results such as the 5-0 hammering by Liverpool which cost the former his job, typified the disjointed nature of the North London side last season.

Chairman Daniel Levy went for a sensible option by naming former Southmapton boss Mauricio Pocchetino as Sherwood’s successor, in the hope that the Argentine brings his brand of football – pressing, attacking play that worked wonders at Southampton last season – to White Hart Lane. But to demand a return to the Champions League from Pocchetino this season would represent a jumping of the gun. Tottenham represents a fundamental step up for the new manager, not just in personnel but in expectations, and he will no doubt understand the pressure on him to take Spurs back to the top four. Undoubtedly, he has the players to achieve this goal, particularly the likes of Christian Eriksen, Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela but this season should be focused on maximising these players’ abilities, considering that they generally failed to impress last season. Only then, with these players singing from the same hymn sheet, will Champions League football become a real possibility once again. Levy is known for his ruthless approach when it comes to transfers and managers but he cannot keep sacking managers who fail to reach his high standards after only a few games, as is the nature of football these days. He should accept that under Pocchetino this season, Spurs will undergo a period of transition, attempting to become accustomed to the manager’s methods and that a finish in the top four is an unrealistic goal.

This is in light of the squad strengthening by other Premier League sides in the race for the top four, which minimises Tottenham’s chances further. Arsenal, perennial holders of fourth place, have added Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and Callum Chambers to their ranks, giving their side exceptional attacking quality in addition to defensive solidity. Meanwhile, last year’s surprise package Liverpool have signed eight new faces to give their squad more depth as they attempt to consolidate their return to the top four. Changes at Manchester United  (namely the appointment of Louis van Gaal as manager) mean that they also could be fighting for a place. This is not to say that Spurs have not added to their side also – they’ve brought in Ben Davies and Michel Vorm from Swansea, Eric Dier (who scored the match-winner at West Ham) from Sporting Lisbon and sprinting machine DeAndre Yedlin from Seattle Sounders. Not much more strengthening needs to be done as Pocchetino attempts to answer the question that Villas-Boas and Sherwood ultimately could not – what is Tottenham’s best 11?

While on paper their squad is an exciting group of players, on the pitch Tottenham do not seem ready to take the next step to the top four. The cliche ‘team of individuals’ could be used to best describe the current state of the squad and until a solid team spirit is established, a top four finish will not happen. Serious question marks remain within the team but in Pocchetino’s first season at the club, the emphasis should not be on gaining a Champions League place but on steadying the ship, developing a fluid style of play and constructing a side capable of achieving what they haven’t done since their moment of glory was harshly stolen from them in May 2012.