¡Que Lío!

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.


19 thoughts on “¡Que Lío!

  1. I do believe these rumours. Unfortunately, I believe they have a lot of truth in them. Watching the press conference in which they asked Riquelme how he gets along with Messi gave me more reasons to believe the rumours. That very nervous laugh by Roman (a man who never laughs!) and the futile attempt to deny the rumours came only as proof to me.

    I’m a big fan of Riquelme as a player, but he’s got a VERY LONG list of fights with team-mates. Guillermo Barros Schelloto at Boca, Manuel Pellegrini and a few allienated players at Villarreal, now Martín Palermo at Boca and the version that I heard during the World Cup in Germany that suggested that he wouldn’t pass the ball to Crespo because he was not his friend!

    I mean…it’s not like this is the first time he’s had a rift with somebody. I doubt this is all a product of a machiavelic mind that wants to bother him.

    Messi was seen as a bad boy at the last WC because he stayed alone in the bench, showing his frustration and not joining the rest of the team when we got knock out by Germany. He is shy. He doesn’t have many friends. He’s got his own personality. But I don’t know of any other fights he has had in his career. He’s got the benefit of the doubt with me.

    But I’m unhappy with both of them because I can’t believe they put their own egos ahead of the national team and that’s unacceptable!

  2. I think Messi’s got a bit of a point, indeed. Granted, it was just a friendly, but Mexico were well up for it, in front of 70,000 of their fans, and Argentina just destroyed them. JRR at his best is a kind of genius, but when was he last at his best?

  3. Messi ought to shut up until he gets a little older. I’m beginning to get weary of the Aguero/Messi superbrats(no wonder Carlitos isn’t upset about missing some matches). Great players, no doubt, but… Messi has a nice game against Mexico and all of a sudden he is the savior ? Everybody has ups and downs and Messi will have his no doubt about it. Hey, or maybe I’m just in a foul mood today ! At any rate, Coco is the boss, and he ought to get this straightened out ASAP. That is, if he can. There is often no easy solution to these things.

    I am scouring the internet for Argentina, or if necessary, Brazilian, bars in Montreal to see the match. Hopefully on some satellite rig.

  4. Johnny, I know Messi has the potential to be a very complicated character but I’m taking his side in this. Mainly because Riquelme’s long history of clashes with team-mates.

    Messi is just a kid and he’ll learn a lot from this.

    I’ve noticed a chance in his behaviour or his approach after the World Cup in which his personality became an issue and people started to point their fingers in his direction after those scenes in which he stayed at the bench while all his team-mates were elsewhere.

    I don’t think he is the same after that experience and he’ll probably get better in that aspect.

    Roman on the other hand…………….

  5. It comes down to what’s best for the team and who is best on the pitch, and right now, that’s Messi, without a doubt.

    In the long run, Coco will want to keep JRR happy, because there’s a good chance he’ll be back on form at some point. But you’ve got to qualify first!

  6. Hi Seba. Hey, I have always liked Messi, so don’t get me wrong. I just have a thing about young guys expecting the world when they haven’t yet paid all their dues. As for Riquelme, no question he is a strange dude, and I would be the first to admit his level of play over the past few months has been spotty at best. That said, I can’t see Messi arguing with Roman about who is going to take a free kick. It just seems that based on the Mexico victory, and the recent draw with Ecuador, that Messi sees himself as the new big cheese. The team would be better off if nobody saw themself that way.

    And YES ! I found a place to watch the match tonight. I’ll be there with my Boca cap on. Should be interesting.
    Viva Argentina and let us hope that Messi and Roman make decent contributions tonight and maybe some of this novella crap will slack off !!

  7. Why oh why oh why, on the eve of such an important match are we encumbered with such a tactless press, are they trying to give succour to the Brazilians, could they not wait until after the match before airing this laundry.

  8. Andrew, Basile’s leaving it til the last minute to name the starting XI – it probably won’t be known until the team actually line up for the anthems. Rest assured, if it was known already it would be on here…

  9. Yes, probably one of Basile’s better moves, considering he gave Dunga the formation and team and tactics information two days b4 we played them i the Copa final.

  10. JRR wasn’t “highly ineffective” against Germany in 2006. He was running the game, maintaining possession, moving play around the pitch. This is what he does. At his best he also routinely hits defence-splitting passes and scores goals. In that game, when he was on the pitch, Argentina were in control. When he went off, they were not.

    Messi, for all his undoubted genius, doesn’t quite dominate games the way Riquelme can. But he terrifies defences, and if Riquelme is still not quite fully fit, then he should start instead.

  11. The (almost official) lineup will be:

    Abbondanzieri; Burdisso, Coloccini, Heinze; Zanetti, Mascherano, Gago, Jonás Gutiérrez; Riquelme; Messi and Cruz.

    I still ask myself what is Cruz doing there?

  12. He’s providing more of a target than the two little men did against Ecuador, should they need to mix the passing up, is my guess. He’s also a better finisher than either Messi or Agüero (although maybe not a lot better than Riquelme!).

    I’ve published this now, as you were typing the comment, along with the probable Brazil XI.

    And David, I know what Riquelme does, but against Germany he was nowhere near as instrumental as in the previous matches, and Argentina were getting pushed back because of it. It’s unfair to single him out on his own because the whole team lost track of Pekerman’s scheme a bit during the Mexico match, but Riquelme’s passing wasn’t the same against Germany as it had been against Cote d’Ivoire and Serbia & Montenegro in the groups.

    For what it’s worth, I thought Aimar would’ve been a better replacement for him than Messi that night, but regardless whether anyone agrees with me or not on that count, I don’t think too many people would argue against Cambiasso’s introduction being A Bad Idea (and I do like Cambiasso)…

  13. Johnny, while it might not be a good idea for young players to start thinking they are the big cheese, isn’t it an equally bad idea to let a veteran player think he is that, based only on past performances?

  14. Justin-if you don’t go by past performances, then what do you go by ? Agreed, Roman has not been on the top of his game lately, but he has a proven track record. Despite some very good performances at times by Messi, he is definitely not an established player like Roman. Anyway, it will all get worked out, I hope, to the benefit of Argentina.

  15. I didn’t mean that to sound as patronising as it did, Sam, apologies.

    I agree about Aimar – Messi still seems to always want to beat a man, which is not always the best option when playing between the midfield and the forward line, whereas Aimar knows the position and on form plays it about as well as anyone. His club career seems to be affecting his International chances at the moment though, eh?

  16. No worries David, I didn’t feel patronised, it was just a difference of opinion! I feel a little sorry for Aimar at times. Perhaps I notice him more because of the River connection, but he seems to get forgotten a lot. Hairstyle doesn’t count as much towards selection as it did back in the ’80s, apparently, and he’s worse off for that…

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