The Reuters global sports blog
Messi, Maradona and Batista
With Sergio Batista at the Argentina helm, Lionel Messi has the chance to develop into the truly great footballer his talent has promised since last year’s exploits with Barcelona.
It could be that when the Argentine Football Association make their choice of coach for the 2014 Brazil World Cup cycle, they opt for a different candidate from Batista – Alex Sabella of Estudiantes for instance.
But what matters for Messi is that with Batista he really feels he is playing as well as he does with Barcelona – a bone of contention among Argentines throughout last year’s World Cup qualifiers and into the finals in South Africa where with each passing match the tactics of Diego Maradona isolated him more and more.
By the time Argentina crumbled against Germany in their quarter-final, Messi was back in his team’s own half looking for the ball, Javier Mascherano was floundering on his own in a midfield packed with Germans and Juan Sebastian Veron was wasted warming the bench.
Batista has only presided over two friendlies, with a third in Japan coming up on Friday, but he has fielded a midfield that protects and also feeds Messi for the brilliant kind of opening goal in the 4-1 win over Spain in Buenos Aires last month.
Messi has regularly said he feels comfortable with Batista, a combination that helped Argentina win the Olympic gold medal in 2008. He has not criticised Maradona, he even went as far as to say a few days ago he would be happy with either coach.
Batista, though, seeks and gives Argentina a balance lacking under Maradona, who in the eye of many Argentines is now seen as a destabilising influence on the team.
Maradona said in a recent interview he would give his life to resume as Argentina coach, having met with the First Couple at the presidential residence knowing they see him as a potential political ally with elections not so far away in 2011.
“I want Batista to stay, I like the way we play,” Messi told Argentine reporters in Tokyo.
Batista, at present in an interim capacity since Maradona was refused a new contract, is among several candidates who will be assessed by an AFA selection committee later in the year, most likely after next month’s friendly against arch-rivals Brazil in Doha.
Batista says: “I’m working with a view to staying.”
Next year’s Copa America in Argentina will be a chance for Argentina to make up for a disappointing World Cup.
PHOTO: Argentina’s Lionel Messi reacts as he leaves the pitch at the end of a 2010 World Cup quarter-final soccer match against Germany at Green Point stadium in Cape Town July 3, 2010. REUTERS/Oleg Popov