Copa America 2011 Player Profiles: Lionel Messi - Argentina

If you asked any one of your friends who the best footballer in the world is and he said anyone but Lionel Messi, well, that should be the end of your friendship. Simply put, Messi is the world's best player and it isn't close. Anyone who says otherwise isn't worth your time.

How good is Messi? He scored 53 goals for Barcelona last season, setting a new club record as Messi picked up his fifth La Liga title and third UEFA Champions League title. The problem with those numbers is they don't even do his brilliance justice. He dribbles like the ball is on a string and he's just playing with it. He's lighting quick and for a little guy can strike the ball with a ton of force. He sees the field as well as anyone and can play some of the most sublime passes you will ever see. In short, he is otherworldly.

As incredible as he is, Messi has not been otherworldly when he trades in his Barcelona shirt for an Argentina shirt though. His brilliance is muted. His spark is put out. He is not the jaw dopping player that has some questioning if he could be the best to ever play the game.

Messi's struggles for La Albiceleste have not been lost on the Argentina supporters either. It is amazing to think, but Messi might be least popular in his own country, where Argentineans continually wonder why the Messi that wows people around the world week after week for Barcelona can't do the same for their beloved national team.

Coming off of a World Cup in which he struggled to really dominate, the pressure is on Messi to have a spectacular Copa America with the tournament hosted by Argentina. Messi has made Copa America a priority too.

"I have been lucky enough to win everything with Barca and individually, but my goal now is to win things with Argentina," Messi told reporters.

It is slightly unreasonable to expect Messi to perform as well for Argentina as he does Barcelona. After all, with the Catalans he is playing with the world's best midfield. Argentina has their share of talent in the midfield too with Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Javier Pastore, among others, but they don't match up with Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and the rest of Barcelona's amazing players. Without the Barcelona midfield behind him things aren't quite as easy for Messi.

That said, Messi's relative struggles for Argentina are somewhat baffling. He is given enough freedom to pick his places on the pitch, similar to how it is at Barcelona. He's a hybrid winger/forward, sometimes splitting out wide only to cut in and other times lining up centrally, only to drift wide when the opportunity presents itself. He's played with top notch strikers like Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain, among others, so he's not struggling for help up to either.

This Copa America will give him the chance to break out for the national team though. He had moments of brilliance at the World Cup and in World Cup qualifying, but he was hamstrung by the tactics, or lack thereof, of then-manager Diego Maradona. With him out and the astute Sergio Batista in, Messi has been deployed centrally, but with a more capable and cohesive midfield behind him that doesn't force him to drop extremely deep just to see the ball.

A manager overwhelmed tactically and leaving Messi out to dry isn't going to be a problem anymore. He is playing the best football of his life and that is really saying something for a player like Messi. In the center and with quicker, more agile players around him, Messi will have every chance to succeed and he better because another national team failure, this time in his own country, and the Argentina fans will have a field day.


Name: Lionel Messi

Age: 25

Team: Argentina

Position: Forward/Winger

Club Team: FC Barcelona (Spain, La Liga)

Chances Copa America Increases Transfer Fee: Would you sell Lionel Messi? Barcelona won't either.

Role With The Team: Center forward in a probable 4-3-3, but really free to do as he pleases.

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