Cesar Luis Menotti 'Afraid' over Lionel Messi Fitness Ahead of Argentina Return

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2019

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 19: Lionel Messi of Argentina looks on during the training session of Argentina on March 19, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
TF-Images/Getty Images

Former Argentina manager and national-team director Cesar Luis Menotti has said he is worried over the condition of Lionel Messi ahead of his return to international football.

Messi is set to represent Argentina for the first time since the 2018 FIFA World Cup in a friendly against Venezuela on Friday. Heading into the game, he's been in red-hot form for Barcelona, netting a hat-trick on Sunday in the 4-1 win over Real Betis.

Despite his recent displays, Menotti told FM 94.7 (h/t Dejan Kalinic of Goal) he's concerned about the condition of the 31-year-old ahead of the meeting with Venezuela, then Morocco four days later.

"I'm afraid that Messi plays," said the 1978 World Cup-winning manager. "I see him with important emotional fatigue between the Champions League and the national team. I see him very tired. If he wants to play with Argentina, better."

Ahead of his return to Argentina duty, OptaJean summed up just how prolific Messi has been in Argentina colours compared to the rest of the current squad:

OptaJean @OptaJean

85 – International goals scored by : 🇵🇹Cristiano Ronaldo - 85 ⚽️ The other 24 players called up to the Portugal squad - 48 ⚽️ 🇦🇷Lionel Messi - 65 ⚽️ The other 29 players called up to the Argentina squad - 33 ⚽️ Comeback. https://t.co/6NzHNOCVuQ

If the Barcelona icon is feeling jaded at this stage of the season, he is hiding it well, as he's arguably turned in two of his best displays of the campaign in the last two matches.

In the second leg of Barcelona's UEFA Champions League showdown with Lyon, Messi turned on the style at the Camp Nou, netting twice and laying on two assists in an emphatic 5-1 win:

Bleacher Report Live @brlive

A day after Cristiano Ronaldo's dramatic hat trick, Lionel Messi tallied 2 goals and 2 assists to lead Barcelona to the #UCL quarterfinals 🤩 Watch every big moment from Wednesday with the Champions League Highlight Show on #BRLive: https://t.co/f5E25hfsd8 https://t.co/FVstpl7xXo

Four days later, he put in arguably an even better display. Real Betis were powerless to prevent Messi from running riot in the La Liga showdown, and he scored a sensational hat-trick.

His third goal on the day was so good the home supporters showed their appreciation for his genius:

ITV Football @itvfootball

Wow. Just wow. One of THE greatest hat-tricks of all time from Lionel Messi 🙌 That third goal to complete it... 😍 Watch @LaLigaEN live and free on @ITV4 https://t.co/IHggqwJrr6

Aside from his outrageous natural talent, one of the biggest assets Messi has is his durability. Despite being so heavily relied on for Barcelona, he never buckles under the strain and constantly delivers in terms of goals and assists.

It's been a little tougher for Messi for Argentina down the years. In 2016, he actually retired from international football following the team's loss to Chile in the Copa America final, but he reversed his decision and helped the Albiceleste qualify for the last summer's World Cup.

Simon Hughes of The Independent noted some hold Diego Maradona in higher esteem than Messi:

Simon Hughes @Simon_Hughes__

In Buenos Aires. It has been explained clearly to me why Maradona will always be regarded as greater than Messi. A) He’s never played in Argentina; for Boca or River. B) He’s from Rosario not Buenos Aires. C) He’s never won the World Cup. D) He’s never won the World Cup in 1986.

There are still opportunities for Messi to sample success for the national team, though, starting with the Copa America in the summer. Given there's little sign of him slowing down, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Barcelona man at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, too.

At that point in his career, Messi's minutes may need managing a little more. But at the moment, he inspires every time he walks on to a football pitch.