After their devastating loss to Croatia, any faith in coach Jorge Sampaoli seemingly evaporated. But then, captain Lionel Messi stepped up as the de facto leader, revealing a side to his character that was hidden from the world.
Jimmy Burns, author of ‘Hand of God’ spoke about the parallel trajectories of Messi and Ronaldo. This was chronicled in another book ‘Cristiano and Leo: The Race to Become the Greatest Football Player of All Time’.
Messi’s moment with his team-mates in the tunnel was significant when compared to the adoration his homeland still heaps upon Maradona.
Burns said: “What we saw was Messi almost morphing into the kind of ideal Argentine in the sense of the Maradona who leads his men on the pitch, rallies the troops and takes them over.
“We suddenly saw an aspect of Leo that I certainly don’t identify with him. I think this is a real test of character for any player but particularly for Messi, who has always preferred to do his talking on the pitch.
“He is shouldering the legend of Maradona and a football-fanatical country for whom the game is everything.
“He is up against both the rivalry in the history of the game, and the question of who is the best in the history of football.”
Burns is not a big fan of Maradona in all honesty. The latter’s antics during the Nigeria game showed how far he has fallen since his World Cup triumph in 1986.
“The glory days of Diego seem increasingly distant and the reality is one of this buffoon making a complete mockery of himself,” added Burns.
“But it’s extraordinary because for many Argentines Diego simply remains beyond good or evil.
“It’s difficult to comprehend rationally, but we’re not talking rationally here – we’re talking about a country which is a political and economic mess and the only thing it can hold up to the world is its football.”
“I hope this tournament doesn’t become all about the martyrdom of Diego Maradona. It is an excellent tournament so far, and it has been underlined both by Cristiano’s performances, and the extraordinary capacity of Lionel Messi to come back from the brink.”