For the good of everyone concerned, Lionel Messi should remain planted on the bench for the duration of Argentina’s international friendly against Guatemala on Friday.
No one stands to benefit should the four-time Ballon d’Or winner take to the field in Guatemala City; not Argentina, not Barcelona and certainly not the player himself.
Hampered by a hamstring injury that limited him to just 157 minutes over the final five weeks of the club season, Messi came on as a substitute in each of Argentina’s recent World Cup qualifiers, and in neither did he make a meaningful contribution.
Barcelona’s questionable man-management of the 25-year-old (five straight seasons of 50 or more appearances and one of 60 is hardly sustainable) had more than a little to do with his picking up a stress injury in late April, and the best thing for him now would be to begin his summer holidays, even if he spends the first 90 minutes of them on the bench.
After all, Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella should be using the opportunity of a friendly against a comparatively weak opponent to have a look at some of the other players in his squad.
Roma forward Erik Lamela is one of them. The 21-year-old has earned only a single senior cap for his country, and his play for the Giallorossi last season, in which he scored 15 Serie A goals, surely merits a look-in from Sabella.
Lucas Biglia could also play from the start against Guatemala. The defensive midfielder recently won his fourth Belgian title with Anderlecht, but has yet to really catch on with Argentina.
Sabella might also deploy PSG’s Ezequiel Lavezzi and Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain, who was suspended for the qualifier against Ecuador, and 21-year-old Velez Sarsfield defender Gino Peruzzi—who was exceptional against La Tri—will almost certainly earn his fifth cap.
On the other side of the ball, Guatemala will just be happy to play some football. They haven’t contested a friendly match since losing 4-1 to Colombia in Miami more than four months ago, and given their failure to earn a spot in this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, their schedule is especially meager.
Almost all of manager Victor Hugo Monzon’s squad for Argentina’s visit will be domestic-based, with a handful of players representing clubs from other Central and South American countries. Heerenveen midfielder Marco Pappa will be the only player currently plying his trade in Europe.
Of course, lining up against Messi would be a dream scenario for many of these players, and seeing him live and in person would no doubt thrill the home support.
But Sabella has to look at the big picture here. As does Messi. As will Barcelona when preseason training begins next month.