The earnest craving of the football world for the past decade eventually came to being at the Lusail Iconic Stadium on Sunday night when the sport’s iconic son Lionel Messi kissed, caressed and lofted the FIFA World Cup trophy.
On a dramatic and historic night in the newly developed Lusail city, what had felt like the most one-sided World Cup final in history at half time suddenly transited into one of the greatest finals within two minutes at the home straight.
For some who never wanted this, hope arose while for those wanting to behold the accomplishment of greatness, prayers went up from all corners of the world to the deities they believed in. To be or not to be? The final, like a dangling pendulum confounding a Physics student oscillated dangerously to both ends of the pitch.
The lottery of penalties is it then and what was already written in the stars became established for humans. Argentina and Messi win the World Cup.
That was not the entire story though; the final was only a culmination of the hard work of six previous matches in the competition through all which Messi shone but in a role almost unseen and unusual in modern day football.
Football in the 21st century has often attempted to compete with gymnastics as teams and players have inculcated more running and athleticism often ahead of technicalities. Players have also been judged by inanities like distance covered, passes completed, xG and other Einstein developed parameters.
At the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 however, Argentina their head coach Lionel Scaloni made a way for his team by building it upon Lionel Messi in a special manner which managers might adopt in the nearest future. How?
Messi is a magician, but at 35, he no longer possesses the vigour he used to possess. A 35-year old can then not be the fulcrum of an “all balls to him” systems that had characterised Argentina’s play during the long years of finding an international silverware for Messi.
Team Argentina was better in every aspect than Brazil tonight. Scaloni has accomplished what Maradona, Sabella, Martino, or Sampaoli couldn't – taking Argentina out of its Messi-centric strategy. Kudos to the better team.— Shafiqul Bashar (@bashar_writer) November 15, 2019
What Scaloni then did was to make his namesake an in-pitch figure head, a phenomenon which proved more dangerous than having Messi involved in all their moves. In Qatar, Messi was used as what he had never been used before by his teammates; a decoy in the final third and a ghost man in build up.
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Scaloni employed the 433, 352 and 442 formations in Qatar with Messi finding absolute joy especially in the latter when employed in their semifinal and final victories. The Paris Saint Germain star remains a magician even in his old age but Scaloni’s decision to extricate him from the team’s hassles proved to be a masterstroke.
Seems Samson Siasia's coaching method came before global reckoning. This thing Argentina have done with Messi at #Qatar2022 was what he did with Mikel at Rio 2016. Perhaps if Azubuike wasn't suspended for the semis (with Etebo already out), we could've reached the final.— Fisayo Dairo (@FisayoDairo) December 13, 2022
This strategy proved sufficiently that as against what is becoming a norm in modern football, a team can dominate matches and win them without even pressing (as Messi hardly did) and you can have an X-factor totally isolated for the good of the team.
Scaloni used the legs of Rodrigo De Paul as wheel for Messi while Julian Alvarez’s resourcefulness provided clear path for the footballing icon. Even when Angel Di Maria missed crucial games, this golden tactic sufficed for the South Americans.
The closest I had seen of this strategy was how Nigeria U23 coach Samson Siasia used John Mikel Obi at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Siasia also relieved Mikel – who played as a trequartista in the tournament – of the hassling job in midfield with the industriousness of Azubuike Okechukwu and the grit of Oghenekaro Etebo providing the platform.
With the success achieved by the experimentation of the “Lionel Messi Phenomenon” in Qatar 2022, expect more football managers to adopt this model in years to come. Just imagine a 25-year old Messi employed in this strategy?