In the buildup to Wednesday night’s South American clásico between Brazil and Argentina in Belo Horizonte for the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers, the Argentina camp has been rocked by suggestions of a division in the squad. Not entirely surprisingly, Boca Juniors’ Juan Román Riquelme is at the heart of it, but the identity of the other party is a little more eye-opening. Barcelona’s normally softly-spoken wunderkid Lionel Messi is speaking out…
Messi’s impressive performance against Mexico in the 4-1 win in San Diego a couple of weeks ago brought up the question of whether Román was actually needed for a team who appear, when he’s playing, to rely too heavily on the former Villarreal man for inspiration. With Riquelme in poor health recently, it was presumed he’d only be on the bench against Ecuador on Sunday – but he started, and played the whole match despite putting in a way below-par performance.
It was reported today that last Thursday, Messi almost left the team’s training camp amid his own growing frustration at the ‘Maradona-isation’ of Riquelme’s figure in the selección. Prior to Sunday’s home draw with Ecuador, AFA boss Julio Grondona apparently told Messi, ‘you’re the don of this team,’ and whilst Messi hardly seems the sort of character to take a comment like tha too seriously, he’s clearly become just as frustrated as a lot of fans at Riquelme’s elevated status in the team.
For his part, Riquelme reportedly responded to Messi’s comments with a dry; ‘you’re not the only one…’ and, in Tuesday’s press conference in Belo Horizonte, he did an extremely unconvincing job of brushing the incident off:
Interviewer: ‘What’s going on between you and Messi?’
JRR: ‘Why do you ask?’
‘In the last few hours it’s been said that the two of you have problems…’
JRR: ‘You’ll have to make it clear who said it. It’s an rumour doing the rounds.’
‘And why do these rumours always follow you in particular? At Boca, at Villarreal, for the Selección [the questioner could have, but apparently didn’t, add Barcelona to the list]…’
JRR: ‘Because someone’s angry with me. In the press some people like me and others don’t…’
The rift between the two, although it doesn’t seem to be actually personal as such, has its origins at the 2006 World Cup, when then manager José Pekerman was reluctant to use Messi and the team relied far too heavily on Riquelme; a situation which led to the side’s elimination after Messi was left on the bench and a highly ineffective Riquelme withdrawn, instead, for Esteban Cambiasso against Germany in the quarter-final.
Messi’s own introversion, and this episode so close before such a big match, suggest that he himself may not be the easiest of characters to integrate into a group, but then, for many, he’s got a bit of a point regarding the current Argentina set-up. Whoever plays as the diez against Brazil will need to be a match-winner, and on recent form, surely, Messi is the player more capable of providing that spark.
The Brazil vs. Argentina 2010 World Cup Qualifier will be played at Minerão in Belo Horizonte, and will kick off at 21:50 Argentine time (1:50am British Summer Time). We’ll have the starting XIs on the site as soon as I can find them.