Martino backs Messi leadership after Maradona criticism

El Diego claimed the Barcelona star lacked character to be a leader, but Argentina's head coach has defended his key playmaker and stated he is an example to others

Argentina coach Gerardo Martino considers Lionel Messi a leader on the pitch, rather than in the dressing room, despite comments from Diego Maradona to the contrary.

Captain Messi was the subject of criticism from Maradona on Thursday, as the Argentina icon was caught on microphone discussing the Barcelona star with Pele.

"He's a really good person, but he has no personality. He lacks [the] character to be a leader," Maradona told the three-time World Cup winner.

Asked for his opinion on the former Boca Juniors player's comments, Martino simply said: "I don't have anything to say."

However, the Argentina boss explained how he felt Messi's leadership style differed to that of Javier Mascherano.

"Mascherano's impact as a leader is more important inside the squad, and Messi's leadership is more important in the pitch," said Martino.

"Teams always have natural leaders on the pitch and natural leaders in footballing terms."

Having missed Argentina's 2-1 win over Chile in their Copa America Centenario opener due to a back injury, Messi will make his return against Panama on Friday.