Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has backed Lionel Messi to come good at this summer’s World Cup, saying the ideal platform is being put in place for the Barcelona star to shine in Brazil.
Messi’s form and mood have been under the microscope recently as he went three games without scoring as his club were knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid, lost the Copa del Rey final to Real Madrid, and slipped back in the Primera Division title race by being beaten 1-0 at Granada.
In an interview with Marca the Albiceleste boss dismissed the idea that there was something to worry about.
“Messi looks fine to me,” Sabella said. “You must listen to the coaches and teammates. Everyone wants him on their side, and nobody wants him against them. He is the best player in the world and looks good to me.”
As some observers have wondered whether pressure to perform for his country this summer may be behind Messi’s current slump in club form, Sabella says a structure was being put in place to ensure too much weight was not placed on the captain's shoulders.
“I believe that Messi knows perfectly what his responsibility is with the national team,” he said. “We all have pressure for being there. We have to leave him relaxed. You do not have to talk with him. He knows it all well. This is a team and you do not have to charge him with a responsibility which does not fit. We all have to make our best effort, not just him. We need to balance the team to give him the best launch platform, so that Messi feels comfortable and can exploit all his talent. We are all a team.”
Sabella said Messi’s performances in the last World Cup -- when Diego Maradona was Argentina manager -- had not been as bad as some made out, while accepting he expected better support for the team’s best player this time around.
“It has been about personal growth,” the former Sheffield United and Leeds midfielder said. “Maturity brings you inner peace. And I believe that a climate suitable for him to feel happy could be an important part of our task. But Messi had a good World Cup in 2010, what happens is that everybody just remembers the final result -- 4-0 quarterfinal loss against Germany. All the coaches who have had Messi we try and create the right climate so that he feels good both on and off the pitch.”
Argentina also has other forwards in good form ahead of the tournament, including Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain and Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria, Sabella agreed.
“Yes, despite his injuries [Aguero] has scored 27 goals this season,” he said. “Higuain took a blow and he is having a good season in Naples, and Di Maria is in extraordinary form.”
However there were still some issues about the balance of the team to work out ahead of the tournament, Sabella said.
“We need to find a balance in the team,” he said. “It annoys me a lot when opposition forwards arrive in the area easily. I am not going to speak about our weaknesses, and there are things which keep me awake, which we will keep working on. The attack begins with the goalkeeper and the defence with the first attacker. We need to play better as a team.”