Leo Messi isn’t in Argentina’s current squad, having requested some time-off after the World Cup.
This is probably for the best as friendlies should be a time for Los Albiceleste to genuinely experiment with the young players they have at their disposal. Their squad was the oldest at the World Cup and with the exception of Messi, Nicolas Tagliafico, Christian Pavon and Sergio Aguero there’s not many players you’d miss if they were dropped altogether.
So Messi is resting (perhaps until the South American World Cup qualification begins after next year’s Copa América) which should lead to someone else wearing Argentina’s legendary no. 10 shirt, right?
In a strange move, Argentina has decided to not have anyone wear the no. 10 shirt whilst Messi isn’t around. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero (who sadly missed the World Cup through injury but should be back in his spot as the country’s no. 1) found it strange, “the No.10 shirt jersey has always been used,” he said, before adding: “I don’t understand why it’s not being used now.”
So it isn’t being used now, but what if it was? Who would Argentina entrust with the legacy of the no. 10 shirt? Who would or could be their new talisman until Messi returns (and, indeed, once he retires for good). We’ve come up with four options:
Dream: Paulo Dybala
With regards to Leo Messi handing over the no. 10 shirt, either on a temporary basis nor or permanent one later on, there is a clear line of succession to be followed. Obviously a lot of great right-footed players have won the no. 10, notably Ariel Ortega and Juan Román Riquelme, but the Argentine line of left-footed inside forward geniuses wearing the no. 10 is too strong to ignore.
From Omar Sivori to Diego Maradona and now Leo Messi; it’s a clear archetype. Luckily the current and next generation of Argentines has the perfect player to step into these enormous boots in Paulo Dybala. The Juventus forward (and no. 10) is a magnificent creative force, a kind of Baby’s First Leo Messi, or a younger version of Old Messi (rather than a younger version of Messi, entailing he is similar to the whippet of a winger Messi used to be) if you prefer.
Dybala has the skills and the talent to take over from Messi, to the extent that previous Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli was genuinly considering not taking Dybala to the World Cup because he was tactically too similar to the great man, thus hard to coherently fit in the same side whilst maximising both players abilities.
But in a team without Messi, Dybala is free to take the reins and lead the side wherever he wants to go. And he has the tenacity and the talent to drive Los Albiceleste into a bright and hopeful future.
Realistic: Sergio Aguero
Let’s be honest, when Messi isn’t around the temptation among the genius minds of the AFA will be to give the shirt to the next best player in the squad. And that is likely to be Sergio Aguero. Whilst Messi is on an extended break there’s no need for Aguero to be as well, he’s a magnificent striker who has only improved under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage, and more to the point he’s never been an Argentine regular.
Sure, he’s played loads but it’s almost always been in cameos or little runs. He’s never been the country’s established striker in the same way that Gonzalo Higuain or even Carlos Tevez have managed to be. This would be a chance for Aguero to not only assume that mantle but to wear the holy shirt in the process. This is the most likely to happen, especially if the shirt is just being filled until Messi’s return as Aguero is great friends (and rooom-mates) with Messi, so there would be no confusion about who the shirt’s owner was.
Wildcard: Angel Correa
Sometimes football surprises you, and most of the time the AFA surprise you. That’s not to say the Argentine’s football association dole out the good surprises, but there’s a lot of shocks (so many that it almost ceases to be shocking). So why not make the new no. 10 one too?
Angel Correa is a fabulous forward, and when he left Argentina was one of the hottest prospects around. His rapid ascension cooled under the iron rule of Diego Simeone, but far from being broken by the Argentina legend, Correa has become a smarter, more all-around player.
Correa has retained his superb dribbling and creative instincts but allied them to an admirable defensive workrate. You won’t catch him slacking, that’s for sure. And what’s best of all is he loves scoring important goals, and, y’know, he’s worn the shirt before for the youth teams, notably in the 2018 Olympics. He’s not a “protagonist” as yet, a chief playmaker, so he’d be a wildcard choice – but life is all about surprises.
Squawka Suggests: Lautaro Martinez
As mentioned previously, Argentina’s legacy with the no. 10 shirt is very much about chief creators. About mesmeric maestros who can score incredible goals when their team needs them most but more often than not play the passes no one else can, who dribble and dance and carry their side through creative prowess rather than goalscoring.
But… does it have to be that way? That kind of player has surely reached an apex with Messi, it’s hard to imagine anyone surpassing the Barcelona man’s absurd combination of consistency, ability and achievements until the next quantum leap in the game. There was 19 years between Maradona’s peak in 1986 and the emergence of Messi around 2005, 15 from the time Maradona was last unquestionably the world’s best (1990) – and think of all the changes that hit football in the 90’s. It will take something like that happening for someone to be able to surpass Messi in that way, so why not do something different?
Lautaro Martinez is the hottest prospect in Argentine football right now. A blisteringly good striker, Lautaro recently moved to Inter (where he hopefully won’t stagnate) and looks set to unleash his awesome ability on Europe. He seems destined for greatness, and is wearing the no. 10 at Inter, so why not let him wear it for Argentina?
A break from the Messi mould on a more long-term basis (Aguero would be but a temporary change) might be good for the future of the shirt and allow people like Dybala and Correa to develop relatively free from the burden of failing to measure up to the great man.