Football: Messi bears massive burden

Lionel Messi in control against Honduras in last Friday's friendly. He hobbled off with a back injury, raising questions about his fitness and fatigue ahead of Argentina's Copa America opener next Monday.
Lionel Messi in control against Honduras in last Friday's friendly. He hobbled off with a back injury, raising questions about his fitness and fatigue ahead of Argentina's Copa America opener next Monday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Argentina captain enters Copa with little rest since 2013 and has tax fraud trial to deal with

LOS ANGELES • Lionel Messi must shrug off the gruelling demands of a globe-trotting schedule if he is to fulfil his dream of leading Argentina to a first major tournament victory in 23 years at the Copa America Centenario.

The Barcelona superstar heads into the football tournament having barely had a moment's rest for four years, with commitments for club and country meaning he has not had a summer off since 2013.

The punishing nature of Messi's commitments are illustrated by his hectic preparations for the Copa, where Argentina open against Chile at Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium, the home of the San Francisco 49ers, on Monday.

The forward left Spain after Barcelona's King's Cup victory over Sevilla on May 22 to be in Argentina for their friendly with Honduras in San Juan five days later.

The 28-year-old returned to Spain after that friendly to prepare to take the stand tomorrow at his tax fraud trial, which opened yesterday. Following that hearing, he faces another long-haul journey to California to link up with Argentina's Copa squad.

Whether or not the jet lag and off-field problems affect his performances in the United States remains to be seen.

Questions about the wisdom of his schedule were underscored when he hobbled off against Honduras after suffering a lower back injury.

Team medical officials remain confident that he will be fit for the Copa America, although the knock against Honduras means he may struggle to be fully fit to face Chile.

In the past, Messi has been able to take the energy-sapping demands in his stride. At both the 2014 World Cup Finals and the 2015 Copa America, he was the player of the tournament.

At the very least, his repeated willingness to go the extra mile ought to silence the small group of critics who have questioned his commitment to international football.

Messi himself hit back angrily at those who questioned his commitment in the wake of last year's Copa America penalty shoot-out final defeat by hosts Chile - which came 12 months after the Argentinians were beaten by Germany in the World Cup final after extra time.

"I get annoyed when they tell us, 'Put in more effort, you don't feel the shirt'," he told TyC Sports.

"I get annoyed by the people who attack you without thinking."

"We were lucky enough to get to the final of the World Cup and the Copa America and it seems like we didn't do anything.

"We got to two finals. We didn't win, what can you do? But we got to the final, It's not like we lost in the last 16.

"Everything I play in with the national team is a priority and I want to win. It would be great to win the Copa America."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline ' Messi bears massive burden'. Print Edition | Subscribe