Messi the one constant in a much-changed Argentina squad for Copa America
Lionel Messi remains very serious about winning a senior title with Argentina.
The quest will surely come to an end with the next World Cup in three years' time. Next year there is a Copa America on home ground -- the 2020 competition is being shared between Argentina and Colombia but even so, Messi has signed up for this year's edition, which kicks off next month in Brazil.
Argentina bizarrely go into the competition under an inexperienced caretaker coach, the former international right-back Lionel Scaloni. He came in with the task of freshening up the squad; Argentina's disastrous campaign in Russia last year came with one of the oldest squads in the competition.
Messi is one of nine survivors from Russia 2018 -- and he has surely played a key role in the selection of one of the others.
In the wake of the World Cup, Scaloni seemed adamant that there would be no longer a place for Sergio Aguero, although the Manchester City striker had probably been the team's best player in Russia. Instead his first-choice centre-forward would be Mauro Icardi, who finally scored his first international goal against Mexico last November.
It seems clear, though, that Messi has a preference. He and Aguero have been friends ever since the 2005 World Youth Championship in the Netherlands, when they roomed together and took home the title. There have even been occasional flashes of their brilliance together since -- Messi's first international hat trick came against Switzerland seven years ago when the pair of them were unstoppable.
Messi returned to the Argentina camp last March, when he played in the 3-1 defeat to Venezuela. Shortly afterwards he gave an interview when he named five of the best players in the world. Aguero was on the list. It was a clear message to Scaloni -- whose position has been eased by Icardi's problems at Inter Milan, which have limited his performances and blighted his record in 2019. And so Icardi is out and Aguero is in. The Messi, Aguero, Angel Di Maria trident rides again.
Elsewhere, though, Scaloni's squad is very different from the one which has represented Argentina in recent tournaments. Franco Armani is the only remaining goalkeeper from the Russia squad -- Scaloni has cast the net wide, looking at seven different keepers in eight friendlies before settling on three. Center-back Nicolas Otamendi keeps his place, as do left-backs Nicolas Tagliafico and Marcos Acuna, but there are opportunities for young defenders to come in and solve long-existing Argentine problems. Renzo Saravia is the only out and out right-back, and Tottenham's Juan Foyth has been rapidly promoted, either to play in his natural position at centre-back or to cover Saravia.
There has been a changing of the guard in midfield, where Leandro Paredes of PSG is now king, alongside Betis' Giovani Lo Celso, the only outfield player in the World Cup squad who did not get a game in Russia. Paulo Dybala, meanwhile, saw little action -- and after a disappointing club season at Juventus is a little fortunate to get in, narrowly pipping Atletico Madrid's Angel Correa.
There has, then, been plenty of experimentation over the past year -- and whoever takes over after the Copa will surely find the squad in a better position than it was after it limped back from Russia in a state almost as deplorable as Napoleon's army did over 200 years ago. And if Argentina were to win the trophy then it would be hard to push Scaloni aside. There has been no senior title since 1993, and if the class of 2019 could put an end to that wait, Scaloni, for all his inexperience, would be in a strong position to be promoted from caretaker to permanent boss.