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“Except for some fool, an immense majority in the world wants Messi to win Qatar”

—He is in charge of the Argentina Under 20 promotion team. What is it about?

Javier Mascherano has the national Sub 20 and I have the promotion. That is, I follow the boys in the category of all Argentine promotion football: Nacional B, Primera B, C and D.

—Is the project new in Argentina? What is sought?

It is unprecedented. The project is very nice. You don’t know how many 2004 and 2005 guys I’m finding on the rise. For a logical reason they do not have the training means that the boys from first division clubs do have, but they have great conditions. There are already three boys from my Sub 20 who have gone to train with Mascherano. That is very good for the future of our football.

—Could it be repeated in other South American countries? Here, in Peru, there is none, for example.

Of course. I was recently having a coffee with Guillermo Barros Schelotto (coach of the Paraguayan team) and he told me that he was going to propose it in Paraguay. The truth is that he would have to do it all over South America. Our idea is to invite some South American countries to be able to show our work, to do something similar and start competing with each other.

—Going into the Qatar 2022 World Cup: Are you surprised that Argentina is in the semifinals?

Argentina arrived in Qatar very well prepared. He is on a very successful cycle, with many wins and he had an incredible run. That’s why I’m not surprised. On the contrary, he is ratifying what one thought of the team, which is very good.

—The defeat against Arabia, on the first date, left many doubts…

It was a very big and unexpected blow. But it served to restore some things and understand that there are no easy rivals, no one should be underestimated. I still think the result was unfair because Arabia reached the goal twice.

—Now the rival will be Croatia that comes from defeating the candidate Brazil. How do you analyze the match in advance?

It is a selection that has grown a lot in recent years. Already in Russia he played the final. It is a team that does not give away anything, very combative, physical and with players with very good footing as well. I think it will be an intense match, with a small result. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends in an extension.

—The lights are on Lionel Messi. Is it the best World Cup for him?

He is a different Messi, much more mature. But he is still decisive. In 2014 he was our greatest illusion. Today, eight years later, beyond the maturity and wear and tear of spending all this time in top competition, he is doing very well. It seems to me that he is empowered, he continues to be decisive in the result with goals and assists.

—Is he the best Messi?

For me, Messi is always the best, every year. It is difficult for me to compare one Messi with another. It’s like comparing him to Maradona. Football is changing and the players are also adapting. But as I told you, he is a different Messi, the best of all, he continues to be decisive in his club and not to mention the national team.

—This Messi seems to be more of a Maradonian because of the leadership he shows towards the outside…

It is a product of maturity. He is a 34-year-old player, almost 35. When he was with us at the 2014 World Cup, he was the father of a 3 or 4-year-old boy. Today, his son (Thiago) is over ten. He is already a family father, with two more children. So he has an enormous responsibility because he knows that his children are watching him, they dream of him being world champion.

—But this “new” Messi also seems not to remain silent as before, he responds as against the Netherlands. Were you surprised by his reaction against coach Louis van Gaal and player Weghorst?

That was a bit the reaction of the team, of his group, of his players. He’s the leader, that’s why he took over. Van Gaal provoked before the game, so he, as captain and the best in the world, came out at the crossroads. They didn’t have a good attitude either.

—The Argentine turns anger into fuel?

The Argentine has a lot of spirit. And when he’s in those microclimates he doesn’t break down. The Netherlands equalized on the last play and we all thought that in extra time they were going to pass over Argentina, who was beaten. However, Argentina was about to win it with Enzo Fernández’s shot that hit the post. That spirit, that rebellion that the Argentine player has, the Europeans do not have. They are used to another culture. They are more schematized, more structured. Instead, the South American player, especially the Argentine, rises up in the face of adversity. It is part of the character.

—When did the leader Messi change from 2014 to this one?

He was always a leader. He always enjoyed great admiration and respect from his teammates and rivals. Around that time he was quieter, more submissive, but he was always the leader, the standard bearer of the Argentine team. When he spoke to Alejandro Sabella, we always said to each other: How lucky that Messi is playing for us! Because having him on your side there is always a better chance of you winning a match.

—A criticized Messi turns him into another? Does it make him react?

I think so, but it has to do with growth. It may be that I no longer tolerate those things. Before, since he was younger, what interested him the most was playing soccer and he ignored everything he was told. Today he is a little bigger and has less room for patience. When they tell him something that bothers him, he reacts. He is part of life too.

—Does football owe a World Cup to Messi?

Of course, no way. I am sure that, except for some fool, an immense majority in the world wants Messi to lift the world cup. Not for Argentina, but for him, for everything he has given to football, for everything that has traveled the world with his goals and dribbling. We were with the national team in India and Bangladesh, and he is the greatest soccer idol in those places where soccer is practically not practiced. But he is a world reference. That’s why I tell you that everywhere in the world would celebrate that Lionel can raise the cup.

—It is probably his last World Cup and, at 35, he is in the last stage of his career. Will there be another Messi in the world of football?

No. Leo’s characteristics are unique. Mbappé is more similar to Cristiano, they are more vertical, more linear. Instead Leo is from another planet. They are all earthly, except Messi who is extraterrestrial, footballingly speaking. It is all in one.

—If you win the World Cup, should you retire, as many say?

His passion is playing ball, scoring goals, kicking on goal. I don’t think he will retire after the World Cup even if he wins it. Yes, he will be proud, he will be happy, he will hug his three children, his wife, his parents, he will look up at his grandmother, who is the one to whom he dedicates his goals when he points with his fingers up. It was his grandmother who accompanied him a lot in his childhood. Then he will continue scoring goals, delighting us until one morning he gets up and says: okay, that’s it, I don’t want to train anymore, I want to enjoy my family. But that seems far away to me.

—Is it a failure that Argentina does not win the World Cup in Qatar? The final of 2014 at the beginning was cataloged like this

I, who was part of that final alongside Alejandro Sabella, live receiving respect, recognition and gratitude. Some fool may say that we lost. But do you know what it means to reach the end of the world? It’s almost a dream! Of course it’s better to win it than lose it, but only two make it to the World Cup final, only two teams out of 32. It’s a lot. I think this cycle is very good, hopefully the boys reach the final, but nothing will detract from all the effort they have made over the years.

—What do you remember most from Brazil 2014?

I have beautiful memories. I remember many details. The penalties against the Netherlands, Mascherano telling Chiquito Romero that he is going to become a hero. The celebrations. Sitting on the bench in the final and thinking that I chose soccer as a profession and I was in a world final representing my country. They are unforgettable things. And I have nothing to reproach. If I had to be in that World Cup again, I would do everything exactly the same. And maybe you can tell me that we will lose the final, yes; but we gave it our all and I have nothing to reproach myself with.

—What was the secret of that selection to reach the final?

The excellent group that was assembled. The excellent coexistence. The great ability of Alejandro Sabella and the respect that his players had for him. They never doubted Alexander’s ability or authority.

—Does this Scaloni team look like the one from Brazil 2014?

It is very similar. There is a lot of contagion. Whoever enters, complies. there is no selfishness, they help each other on the field, they encourage each other. That is the basis for the dream.

—In short tournaments like a World Cup, how the group arrives is worth more than how they arrive individually…

There is no way to achieve things without a united group. Do you think that Portugal could have won something with the highest reference angry because they did not play? It is impossible! It was logical that Morocco was going to eliminate them. There is no way to dream of something if you do not have a very good armed group, which has nothing to do with the individual ones you may have. Argentina has the best in the world, but if the best in the world does not have a good armed group, it would be almost impossible to reach the decisive instances.

—How was the Sabella-Messi relationship?

They were two shy guys, of few words, but very loyal. They respected and appreciated each other a lot. They talked what was necessary. In coexistence Messi is a gentleman. He does not have any kind of appetite or claim. He arrives at the hotels, you give him the room key and he leaves without making any gestures. He never complained about anything. He was always one more. That makes it even bigger. He could have a few whims for what he is, however, he was always the same: low profile, he was satisfied with what one offered him. He is happy like this.

Gugnali with Alejandro Sabella (+).  (Photo: Agencies)

—In the documentary “Be eternal”, the teammates said that Messi was calm hours before the 2021 Copa América final against Brazil. He is like that? Doesn’t he feel pressure?

Yes, the truth is yes. Convey peace. You don’t have to bother him either. He is shy, he is in his room. In this case with Sergio Agüero. It was just and necessary to go see him. But he didn’t seem to be nervous or anything. Besides, one valued that he knew that all his colleagues were hoping that he would do something different and he would put on that backpack of everyone’s illusion.

—Recently, his ex-representative said that after losing the final of Brazil 2014, Leo woke up at night with that bad memory. How did you see him in the dressing room after the defeat against Germany? How was everyone?

That locker room was a lot of crying, sadness… a lot of tears. They were all dejected. But immediately afterwards there was a feeling of calm because we did the right thing, we gave everything on the pitch. Sometimes you go into the locker room and you’re left with the feeling that you could have done more. But that day was not like that. Because that team did everything, the only thing missing was the goal. That shot from Leo that every time they repeat it passes closer. That of Pipita Higuaín or that of Palacio…

—And the up to now controversial penalty not charged to Neuer for a foul on Higuaín…

With the VAR of this World Cup, it would have been a penalty and Neuer sent off. Notice the sequence. It is an abuse of force because he arrives seconds later than Pipa and runs over him with his knee inside the area. It would have been a penalty and a red card without a doubt.

Source: Elcomercio

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