Argentine football manager backtracks on Messi criticism

Changes tune after Messi scores 2 goals in a 4-1 win that returned Barcelona to top of Spanish league.

Changes tune after Messi scores 2 goals in a 4-1 win that returned Barcelona to top of Spanish league.

BUENOS AIRES - A prominent Argentine football manager has backtracked on criticism of Barcelona striker Lionel Messi, after suggesting that his fitness may be an issue just four months before the start of the World Cup.

“It seems that Messi answered me (with the goals), and I wish it were like that,” Angel Cappa said on Radio Mitre in Buenos Aires on Monday.

Messi scored two goals on Sunday, and assisted in a third for a 4-1 win against Sevilla that returned Barcelona to the top of the Spanish league.

Cappa, who worked as an assistant manager at Barcelona in the 1980s before coaching first division Argentine clubs including River Plate in 2010, said last week that he was worried that 26-year-old Messi was running out of steam.

Messi, a four-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, or European Footballer of the Year, returned from a two-month injury layoff in mid-January with stellar performances.

But the teams’ 2-3 loss against Valencia on February 1 had raised concerns.

“I don’t know if it is for the injury or something else, but I see him a little off,” Cappa said Thursday in an interview on a Barcelona television program.

“I see him professionally fulfilling his task. But he lacks the love of the game, that craziness, that passion that makes him go looking for the lefts, for the rights, to go face-to-face, dribbling one, two. And that is what I see that Messi has lost. He has extraordinary skill, he is marvelous, and at any moment he can make a wonderful play, but it is like he’s been married to football for 15 years and has become bored.”

Called onto Argentine radio for his comments, Cappa now appears to have changed his mind, saying he thinks it’s normal for players to go through rough patches after years of performing at their best.

“It’s unfair to always ask that they have the same motivation,” he said, adding that Messi “is a wonder” even when playing at 50 percent.

Sergio Levinsky, a sociologist who has written books on football, said that Argentines get extremely worried whenever anything happens to a star player like Messi.

“There is nothing more important than football in Argentina,” he said.

Levinsky said President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner`s government is also worried about Messi’s fitness, along with that of Sergio “Kun” Aguero, and the rest of the national side.

With the economy stagnating under high inflation and dwindling dollar reserves, the government would benefit from a strong run in the tournament to boost people’s morale.

“The government is speculating that the World Cup will bring the country two to three months of euphoria,” he said.

“If Argentina plays well, that might just happen.”

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