The Argentine National Team is known for free-flowing attacking flair filled footballing philosophy. Their style has been personified through great legends of the game like Diego Maradona, Mario Kempes, Gabriel Batistuta, Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez etc. But for two decades now, the team hasn’t won anything big. After the Maradona years, Argentina had several superstars. But they didnt have a proper team. They had promising players in Batistuta, Ariel Ortega, Riquelme, Veron, etc. But they didnt have a quality bunch to stand a chance of lifting the trophy again.
But now Argentina has got a very talented group of players. Each player in the team is an important part of whatever club they play with. Some of the big names in todays team are, Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, Real Madrid duo Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria, Lazio’s Mauro Zarate, Napoli’s Ezequiel Lavezzi, Palermo’s Javier Pastore, etc. But the one player who is making all the headlines is Barca’s Lionel Messi. He is an integral part of the the Catalan Club that is being considered as one of the best Club sides ever. But he hasn’t showed his brilliance at the International Level yet. So how can one make this wonderful bunch work together. Three managers have been in-charge of the team since the disappointing 2006 World Cup. And each one has taken a rather similar path in molding the team. They have tried to mimic Barcelona’s style of play so as to help Messi do his best. But have failed utterly. Lets see if Argentina, despite all the brilliant individuals, have the right players at the right place to mimic Barca’s style.
At the Back Barcelona have a very good and reliable partnership between Puyol and Pique. They know each other very well, because Gerrard Pique is a product of the La Masia Academy. Even though he spent some years in Manchester, he is a very familiar figure in Barcelona. So they both have no problem playing together. And they have performed really superbly and have given their midfield colleagues the license to stay in the attacking third and pressurize the opposition’s defense. On the other hand, Argentina have the unreliable Martin Demichellis and the ageing Walter Samuel. There are some young talents competing for this position. Best of them is the Real Madrid man Ezequiel Garay. But since he doesnt get enough oplaying time for Real, he is often overlooked. Other experienced players competing for this position are Nicolas Burdisso, Gabriel Milito and Fabricio Collocini. All three are widely experienced but are not as reliable as the Barca duo. Out of this three Burdisso seems to be the only good foil for the CB pairing of Martin and Walter.
In the full back positions, Barca have the disciplined and able Frenchman Eric Abidal and the dynamic dynamo Daniel Alves. Their playing styles very different from each other. Abidal is a very good defender. He is the one who usually covers up for Puyol and Pique when they venture forward. He is an accomplished and an experienced player. On the other hand Daniel Alves is a Brilliant attacker. He has loads of energy and skill. His crosses are some of the best in Europe and he is deadly from set pieces too. He was an important part of the Sevilla side that won back to back UEFA Cups. Even after changing clubs, he has retained the same style of play. Although his defensive skills are not very good, his attacking ability is itself worth several millions. For Argentina there are plenty of promising young fullbacks. But the two standout players with experience plus quality Gabriel Heinze and Javier Zanneti. The ex-Real Madrid and Manchester United man, Heinze, is currently enjoying a very successful spell at Marseille. He is a quality left back who is reliable in defence and dangerous in attack. And the veteran Inter man Zanneti is a highly versatile player capable of playing at Centre Back, Full Back and midfield. Despite his age (37), he still has the pace and the ability to perform at the highest level. He is a complete professional and a very good athlete. He completed his 1000th official game only few weeks back. These two can very well play in the full back position and can deliver. But Argentina don’t have a couple more of such quality full backs. Jonas Gutierrez who plays as a winger for NewCastle was played at right back by Maradona in the World Cup 2010 and that idea failed miserably. Nicolas Otamendi and Clemente Rodrigues have showed some ability but, I doubt it would be enough. Another contender for this place is Marcos Rojo.
The best part of this Barcelona team is the midfield. They don’t play with a traditional Number 9. The forwards move fluidly interchanging positions with the midfield trio. And so the midfielder must not only possess good skills but they need to have the intelligence. The three main midfielder of Barca are Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. Busquets is the holding midfielder. He is a very good and young player who has lifted his game in this season and has allowed his partners to ventured forward. He has also showed on many occasions that he is even “capable of making a living in Hollywood”. I dont have to say anything about the capability of Xavi and Iniesta. Xavi is a dynamic midfielder who is gifted with excellent vision. And Iniesta is an ‘incisive dribbler’ he often makes runs into the penalty area to finish off moves. Together the trio pass the ball around so well that the opposition become tired and bored and loose concentration. They the play the decisive pass to their forwards who finish the job. As for Argentina, there are some very good mid fielders. The holding player is Javier Mascherano. He is a very good player and also plays for the Barca team. The creativity in midfield is often provided by Javier Pastore and Ever Banega. Pastore is a very good player. He can play well in the Xavi position. But he needs to develop his physical side of the game and needs to be more disciplined. While Ever Banega is a very good dribbler and has the pace to penetrate defenses. With more experience in the club level he can perform very well. There is also another option in Angel Di Maria. He is a left winger. He has loads of skill. He can play in the midfield Iniesta role as well. But he is at his best when played at the left side of the pitch. There are many other quality players in midfield for Argentina. Notable ones are Cambiasso, Gago, Maxi Rodriguez, Sosa and D’Allessandro. But all these players are not mentally setup to play the Barca game. Hence any manager will have a torrid time to setup a midfield that will mimic Barcelona.
Upfront Barca have a very fluid trio of David Villa, Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriquez. David Villa usually plays in the left side and is very deadly when he cuts into the penalty area. I need not say anything about his goal scoring record. He is simply fantastic before goal. And Pedro is gifted dribbler. He can terrorize defenses and surprisingly, despite being so young, he has very good finishing. Lionel Messi plays in a free role. Constantly moving around making space for his companions. And when he gets the ball, he dribbles so gracefully and leaves several defenders for dead. He changes speed so fast and so seamlessly. Argentina have Lionel Messi. But the other players despite being highly gifted cannot play the way Villa and Pedro play. The Argentine forward line is star studded. They have the likes of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Diego Milito, Gonzalo Higuain, and Ezequiel Lavezzi. All of them are capable of playing for any top team in the world. Natural Choice to partner Messi would be Tevez. But he is a different sort of player than David Villa. Tevez is so involved in the game and likes to play in the middle. He drops deep sometimes allowing teamates to fill the hole upfront and drives from midfield. But all attempts to play him with Messi have failed or haven’t been very rewarding. Sergio Aguero is also a player who plays similar to Tevez and Messi. While Higuain and Milito are traditional No.9 players who wont suit the system. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was played as an out and out striker for Barca and that move was highly disappointing. So if Argentina were to mimic Barca, then surely Gonzalo and Diego cant play.
The point Im trying to make by making all these comparisons is that even tough Messi is so important to Argentina’s success, the whole Argentina setup cant be made to play like Barcelona. I’m not saying this out of a dislike of the system or anything else. I’m saying this because, Argentina’s current squad are not built to play that way. Barca’s team are nurtured from childhood at the La Masia academy to play their style of game. Argentina’s players move to various clubs in Europe and are suited to different styles of plays. The new manager Sergio Batista has said that he will try to mimic Barca as much as possible and he also said he wants to play Messi as a No.9. I dont know how much this will work. But it surely is a change to the system which used Messi as a midfielder. But he was not given enough space like that in Barca team. This was clearly evident in the game against Germany in the 2010 World Cup. Messi had to drop deep often to get the ball and had to dribble a long distance to reach the penalty box. And he was crowded out by Schweinsteiger and Co. before he could do any damage. So playing Messi upfront is a good move. But then, the midfielders need to step up their play to provide Messi the sort of opportunities that his Barca mates provide. So unless a very good system of play is devised by the manager, Argentina can’t win the biggie. This year’s Copa America will prove to be a Litmus test for the new system. If it fails, then Batista has to go and we need someone who can set things right and make the “entire” team play at their best. Lets see what happens…