If Brazil’s number 10 jersey is the most revered jersey number in the world, then Argentina’s number 10 comes a very close second.
It is more than just a jersey number — it is a tradition, a culture, a realisation of an ideology steeped in football romanticism. The enganche, a sly silky skilled, languid playmaker, with art and grace, beauty and poise epitomises the beauty of that albiceleste shirt number.
In Lionel Messi though, it bears a wearer cut from a slightly different cloth. If Juan Roman Riquelme was the epitome of enigmatic genius, Messi is the image of short, quick and Maradona-esqueness.
He is also the picture of frustrated greatness.
For all that he has achieved, it almost seems as if Messi must prove more and more and more. Attacks are levelled at his commitment to the Argentina cause, to his unbelievable record at Barcelona which is not replicated on the international stage and to those performances at World Cups that are not quite at the high level which he has set for himself.
And yet, while other managers failed to find a way to get the best out of El Pulga for the sky blue and white stripes, it has taken Alejandro Sabella to finally do it.
The former Estudiantes manager has seemingly found the perfect mix between purism and pragmatism. In balancing out the attacking strengths of his team together with the defensive frailties, he has managed to ensure that at Brazil 2014, Argentina will be among the favourites.
In that regard, Sabella’s Argentina contains a lethal attack spearheaded by Messi and one of his best friends, Sergio ‘El Kun’ Aguero. With Gonzalo Higuain complimenting them and adding a clinical goal scoring threat, and Angel Di Maria’s tireless work effort to produce goal scoring chances, Argentina could very well have the best attacking foursome in the world.
How to fit them in has been Sabella’s problem, to which he has some solutions. For starters, he could have a 4-3-3, with Messi on the right cutting onto his left foot and Aguero on the left cutting onto his right. Higuain is placed in the middle to ensure that a target striker is on course while Di Maria could join Fernando Gago (if fit) and Javier Mascherano in midfield — shuttling on the left as he did so well over the course of the season at Real Madrid.
Alternatively, he could have a 4-2-1-3, wherein Messi provides the hook between the two holders Gago/Lucas Biglia and Mascherano) and the front three of Aguero, Higuain and Di Maria.
However, the second option could leave an otherwise defensively weak side more defensively vulnerable. Even though Sabella has managed to curve out a good understanding between the back four, there is still the danger that they could be individually suspect.
A back four of Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Federico Fernandez and Marcos Rojo does not inspire as much confidence as it should. Neither do the potential substitutes, among who include Martin Demichelis and Sergio Rmero in goal is not particularly the most dependable of goalkeepers. It means that defence is clearly their most vulnerable point — their Achilles heel.
That said though, it should also be remembered that Achilles did have an immortal rest of the body. Whereas defence could be Argentina’s vulnerable heel, going at them may leave one exposed to the might of Messi, Aguero, Di Maria and Higuain. That should prove to be the major puzzle with facing Argentina. A vulnerable defence is accompanied by a monstrous attack.