If Lionel Messi doesn't receive greater support from his teammates, he will be blamed for Argentina's inevitable World Cup failure, according to Diego Maradona.
The iconic 53-year-old, who took control of La Albiceleste's squad during the 2010 tournament in South Africa, believes Messi isn't being afforded ample help by a team that is currently "playing at 40 percent of its potential," reported by John Cross and Martin Lipton of the Daily Mirror:
The kid is very lonely out on the pitch. I have a very strong feeling about what is happening and I can only describe it as bitterness, rage, anger. He just does not have enough support from the midfield and is expected to do it all on his own.
The team is only playing at 40 per cent of its potential. It has no change of pace, no movement up front. Unless that alters, we will go out. If we don’t wake up, we’re in trouble. And the danger is that, if the kid doesn’t get the help he needs, he will end up being blamed for a catastrophe.
Maradona perfectly sums up the pressure surrounding Messi. Despite playing below par for most of the tournament, the Barcelona forward has four goals in as many games, three of which have won matches. He didn't score the winner against Switzerland, but his teasing run and pinpoint pass allowed Angel Di Maria to do so.
Messi is used to winning matches when stuttering for top form with Barcelona. Despite scoring 36 goals and providing 11 assists in 40 matches for the Spanish club during 2013-14, a season that saw the player struggle with injury, his year was deemed to be poor by members of the local press. At one point, he was even slammed for yawning during a training session, per David Kent of the Daily Mail.
The 27-year-old is one of perhaps two players in the world—the other being Cristiano Ronaldo—who can be criticised for averaging over one goal or assist in every match. Messi's play for Argentina has always been scrutinised as less effective than that of his Camp Nou output, but as this summer's World Cup shows, this may be down to the personnel he plays with.
Let's take a look at a brief comparison between his form in Brazil and last year's La Liga:
|Lionel Messi Stats Comparison|
|Stat (per game)||World Cup 2014||La Liga 2013-14|
|Pass success %||82.4||85|
Maradona's assumptions are shown to be correct when looking at the above table. Messi is having to work harder for less reward with the national side. So far in this World Cup, he has spent a greater amount of time per match running directly at opponents than trusting those around him with possession. Also, his wider positioning ensures a greater amount of crosses are being played by the star, not to him.
Argentina's inability to truly impress shouldn't come down to the headliner's individual performances. He has, after all, rescued the nation multiple times already in Brazil. Di Maria and Marcos Rojo are perhaps the only individuals showing the kind of work rate needed in Alejandro Sabella's setup, although they have also struggled to find club form.
Messi's ability to produce a smidgen of top-quality play at the right time continues to see Argentina through the tournament. His latest moment of magic—the aforementioned assist to Di Maria for the winner against Switzerland—didn't go unnoticed by his fellow sporting legend LeBron James:
Despite his brilliance in the 1986 World Cup, Maradona wouldn't have won the tournament without the help of a well-balanced side. His iconic goals, whether it be the Hand of God or a scintillating run through the English defence, were by-products of a team that allowed their most talented player to perform by rallying around him.
The current Argentina squad is yet to show this kind of commitment.
Unfortunately for Leo, there's the real possibility he will become a national scapegoat if the South Americans fail to win the tournament. We've already seen a similar response to Wayne Rooney in England, as big-name players come in for the harshest of criticism when a team surrenders.