For Once, Lionel Messi Wasn't Great For Argentina, But It's Hardly His Fault

Argentina fell to Venezuela in CONMEBOL World Cup 2014 qualifying, and Lionel Messi was not at his best.

Lionel Messi didn't play well for Argentina on Tuesday, but the entire Argentina team was abysmal. Sardines From The Trawler looks at the tired cliche that Messi isn't good for his country.

If you follow football blogs or interact with football fans through social media, you've probably heard it said about Lionel Messi a thousand times.

Lionel Messi isn't good for Argentina.

High volumes of football fans (and respected journalists) repeat this on a regular basis, and it's grown incredibly tiresome. It's as if almost every football fan on earth is a broken record. If enough people say a thing enough times, it becomes deeply ingrained in a culture. People repeat it mindlessly without questioning it. 

Lionel Messi isn't good for Argentina.

Of course, people who actually watch Messi play for Argentina on a regular basis know that's absolute nonsense and, for the most part, are sick of the people whose knowledge about the team is limited to Messi's goals scored and Argentina's major victories, both of which have been in short supply since their triumph at Copa America 2007. Messi is good for Argentina, and I'm perfectly comfortable saying that the people who repeat the mindless mantra that he isn't over and over again are complete and utter morons.

Then, Tuesday night happened. That one time when Lionel Messi was not very good for Argentina and the team lost. Venezuela sealed a famous 1-0 victory in CONMEBOL World Cup 2014 qualifying, defeating the Albiceleste 1-0 on a brilliant header by Fernando Amorebieta. Argentina were poor and lacking in ideas, Messi included. His performance will be labeled as unacceptable, and for once, the people making that claim will be absolutely correct.

Argentina were knocked out of World Cup 2010 earlier than expected, getting absolutely obliterated by a fantastic Germany side in the quarterfinals. They were also poor in the opening game, which they barely won 1-0 over Nigeria, but were very good in the three games in between. Messi did not score in the World Cup, did not have any particular influence on the game against Germany, and was painted as the scapegoat.

At Copa America 2011, a tournament hosted by Argentina, the Albiceleste drew their first two matches and lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Uruguay, on penalties. The apparently clueless Sergio Batista was fired, replaced by Alejandro Sabella. Batista took plenty of heat from the press, but blame was heaped on Messi yet again. Because, apparently, he stars for Barcelona and doesn't play well for Argentina.

All of that was nothing short of complete nonsense. In both World Cup 2010 and Copa America 2011, Lionel Messi was among the best players in the tournament. He was his team's best player in both tournaments, and it wasn't close. Unfortunately for him, in both tournaments, Diego Maradona and Sergio Batista made ridiculous team selections and the team around him didn't play well. There has not been a passer behind him since Juan Roman Riquelme was frozen out of the team, and the various strikers that Argentina plays have all disappointed with the exception of Gonzalo Higuain's occasionally brilliant performances.

Throughout World Cup 2010 qualifying, the match against Germany in World Cup 2010, and Copa America 2011, Messi had to deal with midfielders behind him giving away the ball and forward players around him looking statuesque. Argentina managers haven't found a way to incorporate Ever Banega or Javier Pastore into the team, while Carlos Tevez, Diego Milito and Ezequiel Lavezzi disappoint. Juan Roman Riquelme and Juan Sebastian Veron have not been replaced. Messi is asked to be Messi, Xavi, Pedro and Villa. Fans and the media are disappointed when he fails to achieve this.

On Tuesday, once again, Messi failed to be four players at once. However, while he's usually very good at being Lionel Messi, okay at being Xavi and Pedro, and not able to simultaneously be David Villa, he wasn't even particularly good at being Lionel Messi against Venezuela. The poor performances of Angel di Maria, Jose Ernesto Sosa, Pablo Zabaleta...okay, everyone but goalkeeper Mariano Andjuar didn't help matters, but Messi was still not himself. He deserves criticism for his poor performance on Tuesday. While Argentina still could have failed to score if Messi was at his best, he wasn't even close to that, so we'll never know.

However, a team's success should not hinge on one player. Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain should be able to create scoring chances without Messi putting the ball on a silver platter. Jose Ernesto Sosa probably shouldn't come anywhere near an Argentina lineup at the moment, and it's a crime that neither Javier Pastore or Ever Banega is first choice. The players on the pitch didn't perform, and Sabella probably didn't put the right players on the pitch in the first place.

Lionel Messi is a brilliant player, even in an Argentina shirt. He is their best player on a regular basis, and even though he was not at his best against Venezuela, he will probably continue to be Argentina's best player. He'll play at his best without scoring goals, and he'll be brilliant in losses. He was average at best on Tuesday, but his team was downright bad.

Sadly, this will probably become more fuel for those who repeat the tired mantra. 

Lionel Messi isn't good for Argentina.

Actually, he is, and you have a stupid face.

Sardines From The Trawler runs Monday through Friday on SB Nation. Miss anything? Check out the archives.

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