How Lionel Messi Can Get Even Better

Dan Colasimone@@ArgentinaFWContributor IAugust 9, 2013

Picking flaws in the game of the world's premier footballer is no easy task.

It is even difficult to identify areas in which Lionel Messi, a player who has won the past four Ballons d'Or and continues to break historic scoring records on a regular basis, can improve.

Three years ago, however, it was hard to see how the Barcelona and Argentina superstar could get any better, yet astonishingly he has surpassed himself every season since.

How then can the 26-year-old further enhance his game as he enters what should be his peak years as a footballer?

Perhaps the most common criticisms of Messi are related to his subdued, somewhat introverted persona.

It is true that when his team is being overwhelmed by an opponent his head can drop and his influence over the match can wane.

Such moments occurred most notably when Messi was playing for his national team under the tactically inept stewardships of Diego Maradona and Sergio Batista.

Though claims that Messi did not play well for Argentina were overly simplistic and often just plain untrue, it was obvious that at times he was not comfortable with his role in those crudely constructed sides.

In situations where Messi would repeatedly receive the ball in deep positions, with his back to goal, and be expected to turn and take on a wall of defenders, his spirit would noticeably falter with each failed attacking surge.

No. 10's passes would start to go astray, and he would become less and less willing to get involved.

This kind of weary attitude was almost completely understandable considering the near-helplessness of the situation Messi found himself in.

But it is also valid to point out that the true legends of the game have been so imbued with a will to win that they would keep fighting no matter what the odds stacked against them were, with Maradona being the prime example.

As the Argentine captain has matured, however, he has become much less inclined to wilt in the face of adversity.

With the astute Alejandro Sabella in charge of the Albicelestes now, Messi has been able to do justice to his own sense of national pride by reproducing his stellar club form for Argentina.

Every so often, however, Messi's resolve can still look vulnerable, as witnessed in Barcelona's heavy defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals last season.

The Rosario native has improved his mental toughness as he has aged, but he can still become more battle- hardened as his career advances.

In a similar sense, the shy, quiet player's ability to lead has sometimes been questioned.

Former Boca Juniors hero Martin Palermo said as much in an interview with America TV, as reported by The World Game website.

Palermo said:

Messi isn't Maradona.

To me, Messi does not have Maradona's mentality. He's not prepared to carry the team.

He (Messi) is not one to take the role of leader. He won't do it because he's not used to this position. He grew up in another way, he's lived differently. He's been with Barcelona since he was 12.

Boca's all-time record goalscorer has a point; Messi has a very different personality to born leaders like Maradona or the quiet but ferociously focused Zinedine Zidane.

It is hard to imagine, for example, the current Argentine captain, with his chest puffed out, screaming insults at Italian fans who were whistling his national anthem the way Diego did prior to the 1990 World Cup final.

Messi just doesn't offer that kind of flag-waving, follow-me-through-the-seven-circles-of-hell leadership, and he never will.

He does, however, inspire his teammates by his very presence on the pitch.

This is never more obvious than on the rare occasions that La Pulga comes off the bench when his side is in trouble and in need of a boost.

The way the entire team lifts its game the moment Messi steps onto the field is like when Thor has just gotten his hammer back. Such is the quantum leap in potency.

Since taking over the captaincy of Argentina, No. 10 has even overcome a little of his inherent timidity by talking and encouraging his teammates more often on the field, and his coach is hoping that he continues to develop that side of his nature.

In an interview (in Spanish) with canchallena, Sabella explains why he appointed Messi as skipper in the first place:

(Messi) is very quiet. He's very respectful. Very calm.

(He was given the captain's armband) because a responsibility like that can help him grow.

And I believe that him growing a little more will be positive for his teammates.

Though he may not be a charismatic leader of men like Zidane or Maradona, a sportsman with a tranquil, level demeanor is not always such a negative thing.

It is unlikely Messi will ever be sent off in a final, for example, for a flying headbutt on an opponent, or be expelled from a World Cup for taking an illegal stimulant.

In football, as in life, different personality types offer up a myriad of perks and drawbacks.

What other chinks can be found in Messi's carbon fibre-reinforced, head-to-toe Kevlar body armor?

Could he perhaps try to grow a foot taller so as to be more of an aerial threat?

A lankier Messi would not have the golden ratio body proportions that allow him to wriggle through opposing defenses by swiveling, twisting and turning opponents inside out.

Should he dive more often to win penalties and free kicks?

The evidence over a long period of time suggests that staying on his feet usually results in a goal anyway.

The armor is pretty solid.

An area of Messi's game that does not necessarily need improving, but has not yet been exploited to its full potential, is his talent for playmaking.

As his roadrunner legs begin to slow down in a few years time, football fans can look forward to seeing the more cerebral side of La Pulga's talents.

When he drops deep and plays like a traditional Argentine "enganche," or playmaker, Messi is nothing short of masterful.

Rather than pushing the limits of credulity even further by continuing to get better every year for the rest of his career, then, the Argentine is likely to just make a few adjustments and be equally amazing at something slightly different.

It will be a progression that no football lover will want to miss.

 

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