- Lionel Messi has lost his mojo.
- According to former Argentina national soccer teammate Pablo Zabaleta, the World Cup forward is “stressed and unhappy.”
- Zabaleta also claimed he is subjected to criticisms in his home country as fans “treat him like a loser” for failing to replicate his FC Barcelona success for the Argentina team.
- Argentina is on the brink of World Cup elimination – and that is not good enough for its demanding fans.
- Read all of Business Insider’s World Cup coverage here.
Lionel Messi has lost his mojo.
The 31-year-old, by far the most statistically-impressive soccer player in Spanish soccer last season, has failed to transfer his elite FC Barcelona form to the grandest of stages – the World Cup.
His most recent display was truly awful, as he was powerless in Argentina’s 3-0 loss to Croatia, and this may well be because he is “stressed, unhappy, and treated like a loser” in his own country,according to a guest column published by his former Argentina teammate Pablo Zabaleta, for the BBC.
Throughout Argentina’s most recent defeat, Messi certainly cut a forlorn figure – and the forward’s current body language is a stark contrast to the days when he played exhilarating international soccer, with a smile on his face.
Days that, Zabaleta says, do not seem too long ago.
He told the BBC: “The happiest I saw Lionel Messi when I played alongside him for Argentina was in 2012 – he scored a hat-trick against Brazil in New York, and he played the whole game with freedom and a smile on his face.”
“His body language was completely the opposite before the Croatia game on Thursday. To see Leo looking so stressed and unhappy at this World Cup was a real worry.”
Zabaleta, a right back who won two Premier League championships when he played at Manchester City, says he feels sorry for Messi. “There is a huge pressure on him to deliver” because Argentina supporters witness Messi win title after title in Spain, yet have never seen him lift a major championship for his country.
“It is hard when people in your country treat you like a loser,” Zabaleta said. “They see him winning trophies every season with Barcelona – so they expect him to do exactly the same in the national team.”
Messi has long been Argentina’s main man, but there are increasing suggestions this could be the player’s last major international tournament – suggestions backed by Zabaleta.
“It is getting harder for Leo to play for Argentina. He turned 31 on Sunday so he is getting older and sometimes, mentally, you can feel tired as well.
“Part of that is down to his history with Argentina. This team has lost the past three finals they have played – the 2014 World Cup, and the Copa America in 2015 and 2016.”
Argentina will attempt to salvage its World Cup status when it takes on Nigeria on Tuesday evening. It is currently on the brink of an embarrassingly early exit. Only victory would give the country hope of progressing to the knockout stages of the tournament. Anything less will be another international failure for Argentina and for Messi.
Zabaleta said: “In Argentina, that is not enough.”
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