Lionel Messi Argentina 2022Getty

'Messi is not Jesus Christ' - Batistuta relived pressure on Argentina captain has reduced

Lionel Messi remains a talismanic presence for Argentina but Gabriel Batistuta is happy to see a burden of responsibility being shared around by the class of 2022 as an expectant nation recognises that their mercurial captain is “not Jesus Christ”. The exploits of a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner down the years have suggested that he is not the same as mere mortals, but even the very best require assistance at times.

Messi once again has a star-studded supporting cast assembled around him in the Albiceleste camp, with Batistuta of the opinion that a release of pressure for a mercurial No.10 should stand an ambitious outfit in good stead heading towards the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Does Lionel Messi carry the Argentina national team?

Legendary former striker Batistuta has told La Nacion of the expectation an all-time great works under: For a long time we gave it (total responsibility) to Messi; first we condemn ourselves for thinking that we had Jesus Christ and he is Messi, yes, a great player, but he is not Jesus Christ, and then we condemn him too. We did damage for a long time.

Article continues below

“Now that has changed because he feels freer with these guys. Of course, if I have the ball and I can give it to Messi, I give it to him. If I have two team-mates, I give it to Messi if I can. If there is a wall and he is behind it, I have to give it to the other one. Well, that's what these kids understand. And they all play well. If they can't give it to Messi, they're going to give it somewhere else.

“Messi is not stupid either. Do you know what it must be like to feel that others expect you to do everything? What if we all do it together? It sounds different. And it feels different.

“Go and ask Messi if he prefers to play in (Pep) Guardiola's Barcelona, where he shared everything with great players, or play alone and score all the goals. That is why in this national team he must be happy seeing the personality of all the players. I love them.”

Is there more to come from Messi?

The 35-year-old has failed to make the Ballon d’Or shortlist for the first time since 2005, with a quiet season by his standards at Paris Saint-Germain allowing others to come into contention for a prestigious Golden Ball.

He has, however, remained a standout performer for his country and, having already smashed Batistuta’s goal record for Argentina by recording 86 efforts through 162 appearances, the expectation is that there is still more to come from Messi as he looks to raise bars of individual brilliance to never before seen heights.

“He’s going to do more! He is a Martian!” Batistuta added.

“I didn't play until I was 40 because they didn't give me the ankles, but I understand his mentality. He has shown that he can go on, so why stop. We all play because we have a goal, and the goal here is to be the best in the world… forever. And that moves him. And he's going to play until he gets kicked out, I imagine.

“I don't see him leaving. Yes, there comes a time when the physique no longer allows you to continue, but if it's because of the mentality, he and Cristiano Ronaldo, they are different.

“The ability of Messi cannot be compared to anyone. Cristiano surpassed all the rest because of his mentality, because of working and working. Many play like Cristiano, but he has his ego, we all have an ego, you have your ego, I have mine, the one who doesn't have an ego does nothing.

“Diego [Maradona] had an ego, and Pele too. They are guys who put everything together: physical conditions, ability, character, ambition, ego and they stood out. There are many who train the same or even more, but they are not driven by the same motivation.

“Messi is going to play well at this World Cup, and not because it could be the last, because he sure wanted to win the previous ones, but now he has a good team around him.”