Hernan Crespo on Sunday said Lionel Messi retiring from the national team will not mean they don’t remain competitive. And while he is correct in saying the side “is very competitive”, it would be naive for even a former player of Crespo’s class to suggest that “it is not all about Messi.”
Because it is all about Messi, it always have been.
Let’s get this clear---no single player is bigger than the team, but a single player can be the difference between a win or a loss. An exit of one can lead to years of recovery, and there are enough examples of it.
When Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United, the club continued to challenge in the league, but have gotten weaker in Europe. Now they do neither. A better example would be that of Paul Scholes. The Red Devils great was the club’s anchor in midfield for two decades until he hung his boots in 2013, and the side are still searching for his long-term replacement. That they are reportedly willing to spend over 100m pounds on Paul Pogba says a lot about how important one player, and Scholes in particular, can be.
Plenty of examples
But then, Scholes retired. Look at Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede left AC Milan in 2012, and the club haven’t won a title since. True, the Italians were already on a downward spiral, but the loss of a figure like Ibrahimovic was the move that put their car on neutral on a downward slope. Even the brakes don’t seem to be working.
There are plenty more examples like this. Frank Lampard departing Chelsea, Luis Suarez from Liverpool, the entire Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund squads, you get the gist. While most clubs recover sooner rather than later, many take years to. Looking at you, Arsenal.
So then, a single player can, and does, end up making a difference but it is up to the team as to how they handle the situation. And that, is what Argentina must do.
The shot callers must go ahead with the view that Messi is not coming back, rather than hoping he does. They already have Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Erik Lamela to name just some of the good players. Some work into the defense, and a change in their on-pitch approach and they may end up not needing Messi after all, proving Crespo right.
And even if Messi does return, they will be better prepared for it.