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Messi's inability to reproduce form is puzzling

After another breathtaking performance and four-goal haul from Lionel Messi, Argentine fans are again asking if the world's best footballer will ever play for his national team like he does for Barcelona.

sports Updated: Apr 08, 2010 15:07 IST

After another breathtaking performance and four-goal haul from Lionel Messi, Argentine fans are again asking if the world's best footballer will ever play for his national team like he does for Barcelona.

Messi's four goals against Arsenal on Tuesday took Barcelona into the Champions League semifinals, tying Rivaldo as the club's leading scorer in the competition with 25 goals. Messi also leads the Spanish league with 26 goals from 27 games.

But with the World Cup kicking off in just over two months, Argentina coach Diego Maradona is yet to find a way to get Messi to reproduce his seemingly unstoppable club form for the national side.

"Argentine fans believe there are two Messis," newspaper La Nacion said. "One in Barcelona who plays outstandingly well, who dribbles and makes things happen; and one in the national side who can't develop his full potential, who seems to drag that magical left foot behind him and loses the ball, who shoots and scores only occasionally."

The 22-year-old Messi, nicknamed "The Flea" for his lightweight frame and elusive style, twisted and tormented the Arsenal defense with a dizzying array of skills. His unstoppable performances at club level, however, contrasts with his hesitant form for Maradona's misfiring Argentina side, which scraped into the World Cup in South America's last automatic qualification place.

"Now the problem is Maradona's," said sports newspaper Ole.

According to Ole, Maradona wastes Messi's talents by making him play in a team that relies on counterattacks, while Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola prefers a possession-based style that suits Messi to perfection.

So how much is Maradona to blame for Messi's lackluster Argentina form?

Maradona was arguably the most naturally gifted footballer to play the game and won the World Cup in 1986. FIFA later recognized him and Pele as the greatest players of all time. If Messi keeps putting in performances like Tuesday night, he could soon knock both those greats off their perch.

Could Maradona be jealous of Messi? Everything seems to suggest that's not the case.

If Messi leads Argentina to World Cup triumph, criticism of Maradona as a coach will evaporate and his position as the idol of Argentine football will be assured.

"I hope Messi is the best player at the World Cup," Maradona said in a recent interview.

For now, opinion in Argentina is that Messi has a long way to go to reach Maradona's heights as a player.