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Does Messi need help to get back to being the best?

Does Messi need help to get back to being the best?

Posted by Juan Gavasa on November 10, 2014

It is a conundrum that has perplexed an entire nation. Argentina captain Lionel Messi has never been anything other than a faithful servant to his nation, and only a few blinkered individuals here in Buenos Aires would argue that he deliberately gives less to the Albiceleste cause than he does in Catalunya.

But it is equally undeniable that a player worthy of being called the "best player in the world" when he pulls on the Barcelona shirt has never quite been able to hit those heights consistently with Argentina. Now aged 27 and at the peak of his career, is there any way for Gerardo Martino to get the same scintillating performances out of his star that Barca fans have enjoyed for the last decade?

Before delving into this issue, it is only correct to point out that one vital reason for Messi's ascendancy at club level cannot be replicated; Messi has been lucky enough to play alongside two of the best midfielders of the past decade in Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

At the height of their powers, the pair's innate understanding of Barcelona's high-pressing, short-passing game combined perfectly with Messi's own reading of the game, resulting in perhaps the greatest partnership ever seen in world football. It was never the case that the No. 10 depended on those two creators, as some harsher detractors have spitefully suggested over the years.

Messi, Xavi and Iniesta were together a perfect example of football synergy, three players feeding off each other and becoming stronger through their interconnection. However, even at Camp Nou, the former has struggled to hit his imperious best form in the last 18 months; during the same period and by no means a coincidence, the Spanish midfield duo have seen their advancing years reduce their superiority on the field.

Argentina cannot count on a Xavi or an Iniesta—no team in the world could hope to recreate those unique talents. But the lesson is there for the current Argentina coach, who enjoyed 12 months watching his countryman up close during Barcelona training sessions. The Albiceleste captain, a Rosario native like his trainer, works best when he is able to feed off a creative player further down the pitch.

Fortunately for the Seleccion, there are no shortage of players who could take on this mantle. Javier Pastore has played his way back into contention after Alejandro Sabella consistently overlooked the Paris Saint-Germain playmaker. He admittedly does not have the creative consistency of Iniesta but could provide the link between midfield and attack that was so sorely missing from an otherwise impressive 2014 World Cup for Argentina.

Erik Lamela also emerges as a possible choice, despite his uneven form for Tottenham. The former River Plate and Roma man is a great prospect, and part of his problem at White Hart Lane stems from the fact that he does not see enough of the ball because he plays in such an advanced position. Place the youngster as the most advanced member of a midfield three with the peerless Javier Mascherano destroying further back and an accurate distributor such as Fernando Gago and Messi will be able to stay forward in the role around the penalty area where he looks so dangerous.

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