Football

Puso and other addictions

(Yes, nicked from that)

Gilas Pilipinas vs Argentina. Photo from FIBA

Gilas Pilipinas vs Argentina. Photo from FIBA

Dear fellow Argentina supporters,

As we face Argentina at 11:30 tonight at the FIBA World Cup in Spain (and we know which team we will be rooting for), let me give you an update about that other Argentina national team that we have spent sleepless nights for.

On September 4, at 2:45 a.m., there will be a rematch between Argentina and Germany, this time in an international friendly.  Of course, this is anything but that for the Albiceleste who understandably would want to avenge their heartbreaking loss at the World Cup finals.

Argentina have maintained the status quo with respect to the squad, except of course, they are going into the match with a new coach following the retirement of Alejandro Sabella. Gerardo “Tata” Martino was appointed as the new team manager.

I have had qualms about Martino’s appointment since the day it was announced (being the important voice in the Argentina squad that I am, haha!), not least of which is the fact that he was FC Barcelona’s team manager last season, the very same season where Lionel Messi had the worst performance of his career, ever, paving the way for pretty boy Cristiano Ronaldo to finally wrest the world’s best player award from our little Lionel who looked like he was not interested in even glancing at the Ballon d’Or that season. So yeah, Cristiano did not even need to try so hard; Messi’s mind and heart were just somewhere else. In Brazil, to be exact.

I have stalked each and every Albiceleste’s social media account when Martino’s appointment was made public, and I found it odd that it was greeted with complete silence; no congratulations, no felicitations, no nothing.  And that part of my brain that imagines horrific scenarios worthy of a 2012 remake went into overdrive.  Maybe Messi and Masche are unhappy with the new coach?

And it seems that my instincts are proven right once again (which gives me the confirmation that I am a girl, after all): There is trouble in paradise; Messi will not be in the friendly on Thursday.

The official explanation is that he pulled an adductor muscle (a fancy way of saying he had a groin injury) during this morning’s match against Villarreal.  But, Argentine media were quick to point out that he looked perfectly healthy and normal up until the 80th minute when he made that crucial pass that gave Barcelona the lone goal of the match, and even long after the final whistle when he was seen giving congratulatory hugs to his teammates.

This fueled speculations that Messi is on the verge of retiring (gasp!) from the national team, that maybe the 2014 World Cup was his ultimatum to himself to finally get the cup, and having failed that, has no more energy nor inclination to go after it in 2018 when he will turn 31, and has decided to focus solely on club football and win everything again.

Seeing Messi on the pitch in his last two games, that would not be a farfetched theory.  He looked energized, and hungry to win everything in European football again. So yeah, Cristiano, start saying goodbye to that golden ball.

This puts us fans in a quandary: Do we hope that he really has injured himself and is truly and honestly unavailable for the friendly or do we hope that he is in the pink of health but too polite to say “No, thank you” to his previous coach?

The thing about Messi is he thrives when he is happy. Maybe he knows, and it really doesn’t take a genius to know, that La Seleccion have no chance of winning with Martino at the helm. After all, if Martino could not make a winning team like Barcelona achieve anything other than avoid complete and utter humiliation, how can he make a flawed team like the Albiceleste work?  The former train every day the entire season, while the latter get together only on international breaks and train two to three days before each match.

The other curious thing about all these is Cesar Luis Menotti’s recent pronouncements that Pep Guardiola, the coach that made Messi and Barcelona win everything there was to win in club football, wanted a reunion with Messi by leading the Albiceleste’s next World Cup campaign.  Menotti is another important voice in Argentinian football (okay, yes, more important than me, haha!), having coached the team that won the 1978 World Cup for Argentina.

Is Messi unhappy with the coach? Does he want Guardiola to pilot the team instead? We can only speculate. For now, the only thing certain is that both La Seleccion and Die Mannschaft will go to the friendly captainless; Germany’s Philipp Lahm having just retired from international football together with all-time record goal scorer Miroslav Klose.

In the meantime, let us enjoy that Philippines vs Argentina basketball game. Let us take comfort from the fact that at least, unlike ESPN’s Kelvin Pelton who ranked our boys as one of the worst teams going into Spain 2014, Argentine national team coach Julio Lamas has no plans of underestimating us.  He has been quoted by Argentina’s La Nacion as saying that we are an “uncomfortable opponent” because we “do not play a traditional game” and our style is “unfamiliar.”

So let’s stay up and cheer on, even though we know deep in our puso that there is no way in hell we are going to beat the third ranked team in the world, with or without Manu Ginobili.

But this is sports, and last time I checked, the ball is still round.

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