Tag Archives: “maradona” and “messi”

How Do You Stop a Player Like Argentina’s Lionel Messi?

1 Jun

Andoni Giokotxea - maybe the most violent player ever

In the old days, when the tackle from behind was legal, and defenders were given respect not for their play but out of fear, the golden boys of soccer were afraid to turn their backs on goal. Lurking behind them like blood thirsty sharks were tough nuts like Spain’s Andoni Goikoetxea, the Butcher of Bilbao, his nom de guerre, or the inappropriately named Claudio Gentile, an Italian on a mission to stop anything that moved.

In 1966, Brazil was knocked out of the World Cup Finals because Pele was booted off the park.  In the 1990 Finals, thanks to Gentile, Maradona was scythed at every turn ending Argentina’s hopes of a repeat triumph. Diego also had his ankle broken by The Butcher of Bilbao when he played for Barcelona. It remains one of the worst tackles in history. Goikoetxea kept the Argentine’s shredded boot as a souvenir putting it on top of his television set.

Mercifully, those days are over. The age of the clobbering boot has been replaced by the lightness of foot. Today, Lionel Messi of Argentina, presently the world’s best player, leads the dance. So how do you stop a player like Messi from destroying your team in the World Cup Finals? Can you?

Gentile was known to stick to his man like a bottom stuck to a toilet seat with superglue on April Fools Day. But coaches have abandoned the man-to-man marking in favor of zones and space. Little fleas like Messi thrive in this kind of environment. Short of throwing itching powder on the soccer genius, there seems to be no answer. Getting rid of him by employing a Materazzi-style insult against his mama won’t work either (remember the 2006 Final when Zidane headbutted the Italian, prompting his red card.) Lionel is no street fighter. These days, soccer players don’t have to be.

So we can all sit back and enjoy the diminutive wizard mixing his magic, maybe even see him win the World Cup for his hero and coach, Diego Maradona. The old man of Argentina can relax in the knowledge that his protégé plays in a game well past the carvings of the butcher.

Check out my guide to the World Cup Finals. The Glorious World Cup, available now

Lionel and Diego safe in each others arms