Messi was unlucky to have been born in Argentina. Unfortunately he was. Why? Because Argentina is a country that's very hard to fix. It's a country where people feel free to criticize everything and everyone. It's a country where, if a person has more money/success/fame, and the rest of the people cannot somehow benefit from this money/success/fame, then that person is the devil. However, once there is a way for us to benefit from that, then that person suddenly takes the role of hero, national idol, god.
Argentina is a very polarized country and unfortunately, it will probably always be this way. Here, it's everything or nothing. It's black or white, there are no grays. You are either loved or hated, you are either the most amazing person to walk the face of the earth or a horrible person who can do nothing right and should get away now. Our country is either the BEST, most beautiful, most intelligent country ever, or we are the worst country, and anyone who's lucky should just go live somewhere else. This is how it works here, this is how it has worked for a very long time. People are motivated by masses, and those masses go along with whatever seems best for them now. There is no critical thinking, there is no taking a step back to look analytically at the situation, there is just FEELING. What do I feel is better for ME now? What do I feel is worse for ME now?
And that is how the country works.
Unfortunately for Messi, he was born here and he therefore has to deal with this. As I've said many times, football becomes so much more in this country. Messi is criticized for everything here, for whatever he does and for whatever he doesn't do. But half (or maybe more?) of the criticism is not about how he plays football, no... It's about his attitude, what he does before, and after the game, and in regards to playing football, more often than not it's not HOW he played but rather what was his attitude while playing. Any criticism towards Messi exceeds the limits of the sport and goes into the culture of our time, its values and its practices.
The reason why Messi is still being compared with Maradona at this point in time is because people can't let go of those few days of glory now many years ago. People are hanging on to them like if it was their own life and have this fantasy in their minds that if we can re-create exactly the team and the circumstances surrounding that team, we will be winners again. Someone please tell those people that times have changed, football has changed, and the circumstances surrounding it too. Maradona's NT, or even Napolí were teams that played football for him. Maradona was "on top of the food chain", the whole team depended on his 'magic', and any goal that didn't go through him at least once was rare, unimaginable. A situation in which Maradona had to be replaced for a sub changed the whole dynamic of the game and could potentially have catastrophic results.
Messi's Barça on the other hand plays football in every part of the field, Messi - as extraordinary as he is - is just one of the players that makes a larger system work. He's the best one, yes, but he's also just one more. In Barça, if Messi can't play it might make the team a little worse, maybe not score as much, but it would not make the whole system fall apart, as has been proven often in La Liga. This kind of football doesn't always rely on speed, like mainly Maradona's team and that era of football did. It relies more on passing, and accelerating those passes when the time comes-- that's where they are lethal.
This is why Messi can be the best player, win an immense amount of trophies with Barcelona and even our NT, but he could never play the role Maradona did (and thank goodness for that).
Unfortunately, people demand it. People demand Messi to BE THAT GUY. Sometimes they demand he play football like that, but when they realize that football times have changed, that this cannot happen anymore, they demand him to be that guy OUTSIDE of the pitch, and that's where crazy things such as "Messi doesn't love Argentina because he doesn't sing the anthem" comes in. This is a crazy, crazy criticism. Let me tell you now, the anthem is NOT this huge patriotic song that we get up and sing everyday. In fact, I'm willing to bet "normal" people ONLY sing the anthem whenever they go watch a football game live. That's it.
This is an example of a comment I read in a popular magazine recently that represents popular thought (excuse the translation):
"What's wrong Messi? Is the jersey too heavy for you? You are missing heart and passion to play with the NT. There is nobody like Maradona, THAT guy could play because he put "huevos" and sweat for the team."
That's one comment that came out of Messi not singing the anthem. I just want to go part by part addressing this crazy person. First of all, what's all the talk about love for the jersey? About it being heavy and what-not? What does that even mean? Does anyone really think that if someone didn't "love" the country (because I'm assuming love for the jersey is just love for the country) he/she would go through the TORTURE that is playing for the NT, like Messi, right now? Because seriously this guy could say he just doesn't want to put up with such nonesense and leave. He is the star of Barcelona, the best club in the world right now, he has won multiple awards and trophies, he doesn't need the money. The only reason anyone would even have the guts to keep playing for our NT, especially someone who doesn't need it for trophies or the actual sport, is a strong desire to win something for the country. In other words it's the love for the country.
Messi at a young age went to live in Spain, he has Spanish citizenship. He had the CHOICE of where to play and he chose Argentina. Could it be that at that time Argentina had more prestige than Spain? Sure, maybe. But the fact is he had a choice and he made it. And he didn't choose what was easier, he didn't choose the place where most of his teammates and fans would welcome him with open arms, nor did he choose the best option economically... He chose Argentina and that shows an incredible commitment to his country.
I am tired of the stupid "they have to put more 'huevos' argument". This is the typical argument of someone who doesn't understand what's going on in the game, who doesn't try to understand, and is just looking for an excuse to complain. If you had seen Messi laying on the floor after they fouled him, still managing to PASS it to Aguero, a good pass that could even have ended up in goal, from the freakin' ground, if that's not playing with heart I don't know what is.
So there we have it. Messi has proved once and again while playing and choosing this team that he loves it. So it's a fact that critics have nothing to base their criticism on. So what's the easiest way out of this? Admit one is wrong, that Messi is the best player, that he's doing what he can, that he loves our country as MUCH as Maradona (or even more I would argue, but that's for another day)? NO. Here in Argentina we don't admit defeat, sorry. No, the easiest way out of this is seeing how he doesn't sing the anthem before the game and using that as proof for this he-doesn't-love-the -country argument. Do you think that the people complaining about this sing the anthem themselves? God no. They are probably in their houses, AS the anthem is being played saying to their friend: "Oh my god, this guy isn't even singing the anthem, he's such a foreigner, he probably doesn´t even know it" .THAT's what the people are doing while the anthem is playing, nobody sings it in their homes.
So, maybe Messi's nervous. Maybe he doesn't like to sing. Yes, maybe he doesn't know it. SO? What is the big deal if he doesn't? The guy left the country at a young age, they maybe never taught it to him in school... We do not sing the anthem in school everyday, in fact we sing it maybe twice a year and that's it. So it is very possible he never learnt it and there's nothing wrong with that. Suddenly it seems like the anthem has become this huge iconic, representative, patriotic thing for our country. Suddenly you ONLY love Argentina if you sing every single lyric, from "Oíd mortales" to "Oh juremos con gloria morir". WHAT? You sang the first part and not the second? You don't love Argentina as much. You sang the last part but no the first? Same thing. YOU DIDN'T SING ANY OF IT? That's it. You HATE the country. Oh, you sang all of it but you didn't sing the typical "Ohohohohohoh" during the musical parts? Well it's probably ok if anyone other than Messi does it, but if Messi ever decides to sing the anthem he better be prepared to sing the "Ohohohohoh" because if he doesn't thats's probably where the critics will be pointing to next. This is where we stand in the craziness scale.
The funny thing is that Luis Scola himself has stated that he never sings the national anthem during games. He just doesn't like singing, yet nobody as I've said ever suggested that he doesn't love his country. Why? It's possible that basketball IS just about the sport for people here... And football is not. PLUS, Messi was not so lucky to have played for River or Boca, something that at least gives you a bit of immunity in the football world. This not being the case though, Messi is probably going to keep enduring these silly comments about his lack of patriotism from people that are not patriotic at all. Because for these people Messi has to behave exactly how they think he should, showing more emotion when they deem it acceptable, and showing less emotion when they don't. The same people that turn around and don't miss an opportunity to insult this country, the same people who think the only way to be patriotic is to SHOW it to the whole world, it's to scream the anthem everytime possible, it's to insult everyone in your path that's not Argentinean, it's to cry every single time you miss a goal and wipe your tears with the jersey. THAT's the only way. Again, all or nothing.
And even when Messi does score and proves everyone wrong, it's not going to count because he wasn't singing the anthem WHILE he was scoring.
Are we rolling our eyes yet? Because ever since this stupid criticism for Messi started my eyes have started to hurt from how much I've been rolling them.
As I've said earlier, and probably left it clear here too, these criticisms against Messi are nothing short of stupid. This is why I choose to defend him everyday, because in Messi I see a different Argentina, I do. An Argentina that's selfless, that knows its good at what it does but doesn't have to scream it for everyone to hear, that gets along with and respects everyone, that doesn't need huge gestures to show the love for the country. It's hard, but the day that I stop hearing these types of insults against Messi is the day I'm going to think that maybe something in our country is changing... The anthem doesn't mean anything in a football game, it's just words after all, for it to mean something it has to be translated into actions. What good is it to us if a player knows all the words to the anthem, screams them at the top of his lung, and then plays a lousy game? Messi sings the anthem everyday by having chosen to play with Argentina, by showing up for every game, by never demanding to play in a different position, never demanding who he does or doesn't want to play with, never insulting any of the managers (even if a few of them deserved a few insults), by playing the entire 90 minutes even if the game is going nowhere, by NEVER having threatened to quit the National Team, which is a lot more that can be said for some of the players today-- and most important by passing the ball, by being the best one on the field almost every game, by having the most assists, by passing the ball even after someone fouled him, by never diving, by trying his best to play some good football in an incredibly unorganized team. So at least to me, he is singing the anthem pretty loud.