Every Friday, CasinoBeats is thinking out loud
IT’S just before 9pm in Nizhny Novograd, Russia, on Thursday, June 21, and an unforgiving high-definition television camera zooms in on a pensive Lionel Messi.
The Argentinean, arguably the most gifted player of his generation and, for many, perhaps the greatest player to ever grace the Beautiful Game, is lining up for the pre-match niceties of handshakes and anthems as his team prepares to face Croatia. As the cameraman prepares his pan along the line-ups, Argentina’s number 10 is seen to lower his gaze and press his fingers to his forehead, as if in some discomfort.
It was probably nothing more than an unguarded moment on a huge stage but, with hindsight, it looked like the action of a man struggling with the weight of expectation of a football-mad nation of more than 43 million.
A touch over 90 minutes later, and with no regard for the great man’s reputation and indisputable ability, the hardened talents of Croatia, spearheaded by the sublimely influential Luka Modric, had taken a hammer to Argentina’s standing in world football with a bruising 3-0 victory.
Argentina’s defence had a day to forget, not least goalkeeper Willy Caballero, familiar to Premier League watchers for combining occasional brilliance with calamitous errors in judgement. On this World Cup Thursday, it was the latter that earned the keeper unwanted headlines.
Caballero has since become the game’s fall guy, especially as the Argentinean media looks for excuses for such an ugly capitulation, but – in truth – there were failings across Jorge Sampaoli’s wonkily assembled XI.
Higuaìn and Dybala remained on the bench until the second half. Icardi and Lamela were left in Milan and London respectively. Aguero a peripheral figure. Argentina were a mess, in footballing terms.
Yet they had Leo. The king, the main main. Messi. But here’s the thing – it wasn’t enough. Nowhere near enough. For all the ability Messi possesses and the attacking talent left out or at home, Argentina were fatally weak elsewhere.
There are lessons and reminders here that extend far beyond the world of football. Sir Clive Woodward, England’s Rugby World Cup-winning coach, speaks frequently about the translation of team dynamics – notably “teamship”, as he calls it – from sport to business, and indeed to all walks of life. It’s long been said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
This might infer that Argentina were undone solely by a goalkeeping error. That would be unfair on Caballero and a gross injustice to Croatia, who earned their landmark victory in more ways than one. The Argentina performance was as much about the strength of its weakest link than the fragility of its strongest one.
As Woodward would have it, this is a raised-eyebrow moment for fans of cross-sector lesson learning (which is totally a thing).
So who is the Messi in your business? Or, more likely, who thinks they’re your team’s Leo? CB imagines that most workplaces have someone who is perceived as the pacesetter. Someone with standards to which others aspire? Or at least who is held up as a good example of the right way to do things?
Almost certainly. And why not? Leaders are good, role models are good. But who’s your goalkeeper? Who does all the unsexy saving-of-the-day while all eyes are on Leo? Maybe someone isn’t saving the day.
It is highly likely that Messi will now hang up his international boots for the second time. On the first occasion he served notice of ending his international career, he changed his mind with a couple of months.
When the dust has settled on a World Cup group that embattled Argentina may yet come through and Messi looks over his shoulder at the team assembled around him, he might be forgiven for thinking it’s not worth the effort of trying to drag them all over the line.
And then what’s left? An Argentina without Messi. Maybe you should check your line-up.