Former Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti believes Lionel Messi can star at the World Cup like countryman Diego Maradona in 1986 but his form in Brazil “will depend a lot on the team.” Argentina will be depending on the Barcelona striker being at his best for the June 12-July 13 tournament, as they seek a third World Cup title following 1978 and 1986.
But Menotti, who led Argentina to the 1978 title, told DPA in an interview he was not sure the current team would be able to support Messi enough for them to win the tournament.
“If the team works well, if the team defends well, if the team recovers the ball easily, if the ball goes through Messi’s feet with a high percentage, he will have the chance to prove just how good he is,” Menotti said.
“So far, the team has had several good things, and several that were not so good.
“So far the team does not play with the strength of an idea that has been fully absorbed and that has been practiced as much as needed. It is very much based on the inspiration of its players.
“But there is also hope based on the fact that the coach will for the first time have the opportunity to have them all together for more than three days.” Menotti, also a former Barcelona coach, is now 75 and has not been active as a trainer since 2007, but football still dominates his office in central Buenos Aires.
Match videos and newspaper clippings pile up, and pictures of the man known as “El Flaco”, alongside football legends such as Maradona, Pele, Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff, are displayed on the walls.
Looking at some of the other World Cup favourites, Menotti says hosts and five-time winners Brazil cannot be ignored.
“(Brazil) are always highly competitive, they are always candidates (to win the title), and they can be world champions. What I am not sure of is whether they will manage to play well,” he said.
Of the European teams, who have never won a World Cup in the Americas, picks out Germany as best hope rather than world champions Spain.
“Germany are the ones who would be most likely to do that (win in South America). They are very solid as a group, very clear in their football idea,” he said.
“I don’t see Spain quite that strong. I would say that the two (European) teams that I see the strongest to manage that are the Netherlands and Germany.” Menotti says Spain could be jaded both mentally and physically.
“I see them very fatigued. There are footballers who have played many matches. And fatigue is not just muscular, and you don’t recover from it just by sleeping or resting,” he said.
“There is a kind of fatigue that has to do with commitment, with responsibility, with having to definitely win every time you play,” Menotti said.
“There is an exhaustion in very, very continuous success, and hopefully they can overcome it. If Spain are at 80 per cent of what they can do, they are clear candidates.” Menotti dismisses England’s chances, is sceptical of Italy’s and says Belgium could be a dark horse.
“I no longer mention England as a candidate. They play worse every time they leave the island. I respect their football a lot, I love English football, but I don’t see them as candidates,” he said.
Of Cesare Prandelli’s “growing” and more attack-minded Italy team, Menotti said: “Let’s see whether they have the strength it takes to stand by that idea of change, of a different form of football, even in adversity.
“They will be harshly punished by the media, because they live off the history of those teams who shot on goal twice and won a World Cup. There are lots of fanatics in Italy.” The high temperatures in parts of Brazil will also be a crucial factor “especially for teams who live off dynamics.” “Tough climates will favour teams who hold on to the ball well. That was what happened in World Cups in Mexico (1970 and 1986). In 1970 the Germans weren’t as German and the Italians were not as Italian.
They were no longer those there-and-back teams who imposed themselves physically,” he said.
“There was huge superiority for those teams who played well with the ball.”