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23 Jun 2018

Argentina: Messi's imminent retirement a chance to rebuild?

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Pale and lifeless

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Sparkling 

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Too g ood 

REUTERS/Matthew Childs

Sixty years. That's how long it's been since Argentina lost as heavily at the World Cup as they did on Day 8.

Jorge Sampaoli's side were hapless in a 3-0 steamrollering by Croatia, with the best player in their history marooned sulkily in the centre circle as the disaster unfolded.

After returning from retirement after the 2016 Copa America final defeat, it might be the last time we see Lionel Messi at the World Cup. If so, how does his country move on without him?

Pale and lifeless

Without the Barcelona star, they wouldn't have qualified for the tournament at all.

It was his hat-trick against Ecuador which secured the third spot in CONMEBOL qualifying, and it was his seven goals, from a desperate total of 19,  which even gave them a chance. Beyond their number ten, Argentina look pale and lifeless. 

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Yet paradoxically, Messi's departure may indeed prove to be a good thing for his country. In Russia, his teammates have looked to him incessantly for inspiration, only to labour when they find him out of form and sorts.

There is no Plan B, no tactic placing an idea of play over the performances of a very gifted but misfiring individual.

Jorge Sampaoli is to be blamed for that, but why wouldn't he build the squad around Messi? Pep Guardiola, for all the reverence and worship of his tactical wizardry, did exactly the same thing at Barcelona.

Sparkling 

Messi's leaving would free up the number ten role for Paulo Dybala, who's currently left on the bench as he's perceived by Sampaoli to occupy the same space as Messi. Hence, getting in his way. This was a decision taken for the good of Messi, rather than the team.

The Juventus youngster is not the finished article, and it is doubtful that he will ever reach the level enjoyed by Los Cules' figurehead.

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

However, he has proven effective for his club, helping them to a seventh consecutive Scudetto with some sparkling performances. 

Dybala, like the rest of his teammates, looks stifled by the presence of Messi. The latter is such a good option, such a reliable adjudicator of matches, that he is always the first target of a pass or cross.

Too good

The Juventus star has even admitted that he finds playing with his compatriot 'difficult'. Quite simply, Messi is too good for what has long been an average team.

His departure means that Dybala and co. would need to find their own inspiration. Rather than taking the lazy option, they would be compelled to find their own solutions.

Sampaoli is expected to leave the managerial job at the tournament's conclusion. There are no successors mooted, but whoever it is will find a squad that is depleted and lacking experience. Rumours suggest that Javier Mascherano, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria may be joining Messi on the sidelines next month.

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Rather than being a crisis, it could end up being a chance for renewal. Messi and his consiglieri have watched over the crumbling of an empire - albeit whilst reaching four finals, something for which credit remains startlingly elusive, partially because they've lost each -, but something fresh can rise in their wake.

Lautaro Martinez is a pacy revelation who will end up scoring goals in Europe before long, whilst Cristian Pavon is showing glimpses of his prodigious ability in Russia. There are green shoots, however hard they might be to spot amongst the wreckage.

Life goes on, even without Messi deciding matches by himself. So too will Argentina. 

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 8 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.