After years of people around the world criticizing Lionel MESSI's performances with Argentina, no one can say anything bad about his performances anymore.
Since Juan RIQUELME's departure from the Argentina National Team, the pressure has been on MESSI to duplicate his Barcelona form for the sky blue and white. However, it hasn't always been just about his form for the Albiceleste, but some people even questioned his commitment and love for Argentina. And I'm not just talking about his love and commitment towards the team, I'm talking about the country itself. Fans, if you can even call them real fans, were ready to crucify Lionel for scoring against Estudiantes in 2009 at the final of the Club World Cup for Barcelona. Imagine that! Imagine people wanting MESSI's head on a platter because he scored for his CLUB against an Argentine team he has no affiliation with at all.
The ridiculousness reached new heights when people started labelling him as a Catalan simply because he doesn't sing the anthem. And for that, I'm going to quote something I read last week. "MESSI sings the anthem with his feet". They forgot that he represented Argentina at U20 level and won the World Cup with that team, how he fought with Barcelona to go to the Olympics in 2008 and how he has never said no to playing for the National Team, unlike some other player who some people proclaim(ed) to be the "the people's player".
Which brings me to my next point. One of the reasons why Lionel has had little to no backing by the Argentinian media in the past is because he has never played for a major club in Argentina. When things go wrong, he doesn't have the backing of Boca Juniors, River Plate or Racing Club fans. He's literally had to earn the respect of the public and the hard way.
Despite everything, there is not a single person alive who can question MESSI's love, commitment or performances for Argentina anymore. Two hattricks in his last three matches for the National Team, including a goal in between against Ecuador has moved Lionel into fourth spot in Argentina's all time top goalscorers list. I've always believed in Lionel and that eventually, he would explode with this team. We began seeing signs of this in 2010 at the World Cup where along with Javier MASCHERANO, he was our best player at that tournament. And it finally seems like MESSI has come into his own for the National Team. The way I see it, since the Copa America, this has been MESSI's team, despite not wearing the armband at the time. When MASCHERANO was shown red against Uruguay at the Copa America, MESSI was the one who took over and wore the "C". Not Javier ZANETTI, Gabriel MILITO, Nicolas BURDISSO or any of the other veterans who were on the pitch at the time. And with that responsibility, he was also the first penalty kick taker against Uruguay.
When SABELLA took over, he confirmed my theory that this is indeed Lionel's team when he named him team captain. Look at the celebrations whenever Argentina scores. He's the focal point. He's practically behind every one of the goals Argentina has scored under SABELLA. He's the person everyone points to once a goal has been scored. For me, personally, what confirmed that this is indeed his team and he fully feels comfortable with everyone (which I don't think has always been the case with him), is that fourth goal against Brazil. When he scored that amazing goal, he ran towards the bench and everyone celebrated together. When was the last time you saw MESSI running towards the bench while playing for Argentina to celebrate a goal he scored?
You can tell he finally feels comfortable. No more of the older players. Nicolas BURDISSO, Martin DEMICHELIS, Javier ZANETTI, Gabriel HEINZE, all of those from the previous generation are all gone. MESSI is now being surrounded by friends he has known for several years and most of which he played with at youth level. AGUERO, DI MARIA, ZABALETA, GARAY, ROMERO, MASCHERANO, GAGO and LAVEZZI are all players with whom MESSI has played alongside with at either youth level or the Olympics. These are his buddies. They play for him and he plays for them. You can also throw HIGUAIN in there as he seems to be close friends with Lionel.
I think that, more than SABELLA's tactics, more than anything, is why we are finally seeing the best of MESSI for Argentina. He's surrounded by friends and he knows he's finally the leader of the team and an amazing leader he has been so far. Dragging Argentina through the pits of hell against Colombia while the team was a goal down. Scoring a hattrick against Switzerland, putting in a 10/10 performance against Ecuador and scorring a hattrick against Brazil.
He is currently Argentina's fourth all time leading goalscorer. FOURTH! Behind only Gabriel BATISTUTA, Hernan CRESPO and Diego MARADONA.
He's also getting recognition from team mates and Diego MARADONA, who has always backed MESSI.
"He's not the leader I was, he doesn't have Brad PITT's face or [Luciana] SALAZAR's behind, but he's Argentinian. Stop giving him crap. He's going to give us a World Cup. If you give him crap one day he's going to stay in Barcelona."
Congratulations to Lionel MESSI as his third goal against Brazil sealed an unheard of, unworldly 82 goal season for the best player in the world.