Valdano: Messi the first genius of the 21st century

The Argentine believes that the Barcelona forward can fire his country to World Cup glory this year and help the nation rediscover its passion for the game
Real Madrid and Argentina legend Jorge Valdano has labelled Barcelona star Lionel Messi "the first genius of the 21st century".

The 26-year-old has fired the Catalans to six Liga titles, three Champions Leagues and two Copa del Rey crowns among a host of other trophies during his career to date.

He will lead Alejandro Sabella's side at this summer's World Cup, and Valdano believes he can help his country win the tournament for the first time since 1986.

"A team that has Messi in the 23-man squad can't fail to be candidates for the trophy," he told EFE. "He's the first genius of the 21st century.

"Argentines distanced themselves because they forgot about the ball, which had been their passion for 100 years.

"I think we've moved away from [legendary coach] Cesar Luis Menotti, who reflected our footballing culture best and that is condemning us."

Valdano also expects Spain to be competitive in Brazil, insisting that their period of domination is not coming to an end, pointing to the promise of their youth teams.

"The Under-21s and Under-19s show that Spain has more than one cycle of success, which is a generational quirk. I think the World Cup win in South Africa [in 2010] will inspire new generations."