It’s no secret that Diego Maradona holds himself in very high regard. After all, it was not through media sensationalism that the phrase “hand of God” is perhaps more familiar in living rooms across England than “they think it’s all over….“. No, those words came straight from the man himself following his exerts in Mexico, and it is this self-sustaining narcissism that has paved the way for conspiracy theories regarding Maradona’s motives in South Africa this summer.
Over the years, we’ve seen many players labelled the new Pelé, the new Best or the new Maradona. And while the former two can rest easily (Ronaldo and Romario fell short of reaching Pelé status, and Northern Ireland may never produce a player of George Best’s talent every again), Diego Maradona’s crown as the jewel of Argentinian football is under serious threat from one Lionel Messi.
Messi seems to be at the peak of his game, because let’s be fair – it’s hard to imagine it possible for him to play any better than he already is. So would it be completely off the wall to suspect Maradona of sabotaging his successor’s claim to the throne? Let’s look at what Maradona has done this summer, and what he could, and perhaps should, have done.
Most pundits will quite rightly point to Argentina’s best hope this summer being getting the best out of Messi, something Josep Guardiola does very successfully at club level with Barcelona. Messi’s most universally lauded dislplay was undoubtedly his 4 goal demolition of Arsenal in the Champions League this season, so lets look at how Barcelona lined up that day and substitute in regular first team players.
Argentina could easily deploy this same system. Cambiasso is probably the most Xavi-esque player you will find in the world apart from the man himself, and is coming off the back of a treble-winning season with Inter. Likewise Javier Zanetti, who may not have the legs of Daniel Alves, but who has had the season of his glittering career. Yet both players have been inexplicably overlooked. Juan Roman Riquelme also remains a notable absentee despite his undoubted quality, and would be a perfect substitute for the Iniesta role at Barcelona.
“I don’t have him for my team. It’s a matter of tastes. I don’t have anything against the kid, on the contrary, I’ve known him since he was little, but no. Because of the position where Cambiasso plays, on the left side, it doesn’t seduce me.” – Maradona (about Cambiasso)
Javier Mascherano is capable of doing what Sergio Busquets does, but to an even higher standard. Angel Di Maria could maraud the left wing like Pedro does on the right for Barcelona, and can also chip in with goals similar to the Spaniard, as his double figure scoring season has shown. Up front, it can be argued that in Carlos Tevez, Argentina have a similar spearhead to Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o in 2008/2009, which most people agree was more impressive than this season’s attack. Either way, the likes of Higuain, Aguero and Milito could provide an array of alternative options.
Instead, Argentina will line up in a very un-South American classic 4-4-2, albeit with a twist. Maradona will play a flat back 4 with very few, if any, attacking responsibilities. Mascherano will occupy a holding role, with Veron pulling the strings ahead of him. Angel Di Maria will take up a classic winger’s role on the left, with either Jonas Gutierrez or Maxi Rodriguez (depending on whether the former plays at right back or not) in a slightly more infield right sided role. With Higuain leading the line, Messi will occupy a classic No. 10 role with lots of creative freedom.
There’s no questioning Argentina’s talent. In Messi, they have undoubtedly the best player in the world, and with a strikeforce consisting of Higuain, Milito, Aguero and Tevez, they have options up front that are the envy of every other team competing this summer. The only position Argentina should be worried about this summer is the most important one, and one that Maradona has no doubts about.
His own position.