Recently a friend said to me that Maradona had made a bad team World Champion, and that Messi could make this Argentina World Champion. I completely disagreed: Compare the Argentina of 1986 without Maradona with the Argentina of 2018 without Messi, and you will see that the 1986 side was far superior to the spoiled mediocrity that Argentina is today.
Argentina in 1986 did not have the world's greatest players, but they had a solid team, that Maradona made the best of all. Without Maradona Argentina had good and experienced players such as Jorge Valdano (who contrary to one guy named Higuain would not miss the chances he got), Oscar Ruggeri (who was to become a solid Real Madrid defender), Jose Luis Brown (who replaced the veteran Daniel Passarella), as well as a strong midfield with players such as Jorge Burruchaga, Ricardo Giusti, Sergio Batista and Julio Olarticoechea. Carlos Bilardo was a cynical but organised manager, who knew what he had and what he wanted.
Maradona, with his strong leadership and indisputable skills, brought this team to the pinnacle of world football amid a number of teams that were probably better.
Argentina today has a lot of overpaid and overrated players. And Messi is indeed the world's best player, who has made his name in the Champions League and in a Barcelona team where he has an outstanding team around him. Rather than Maradona, Messi is perhaps better compared to George Weah, who in the 1990s was also the best of the world, but never managed to lift his national team. And unlike Maradona (or Weah), Messi may be brilliant but is not a born leader. He can win for the team (like when he alone qualified them for the World Cup), but he cannot lift the rest of the team to perform. The other Argentine players are simply not good enough.
Finally, Argentina has a manager in Jorge Sampaoli who has no plan with the team beyond "pass it to Messi".
Today, the debacle that is waiting to happen got its first warning when Argentina (without Messi) was thoroughly destroyed 6-1 by Spain. The same Spain that normally has difficulty scoring goals had no problem outclassing an Argentine defense that is barely worthy of being called a defense. In the end this is Argentina's biggest problem compared to 1986: back then Bilardo's defense gave little if anything away. Today, the defense is an open door which I doubt Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria will be unable to not score against, no matter how hard they try not to (and why would they...?).
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