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Leave Leo alone, he should be allowed to relax: Saviola

Argentina will have to learn to play as a team, says former striker

By A Staff Reporter in Calcutta

  • Published 28.09.18, 2:45 PM
  • Updated 28.09.18, 4:09 PM
Javier Saviola (from left), coach Albert Ferrer, Juliano Belletti and Edmilson on Thursday
Javier Saviola (from left), coach Albert Ferrer, Juliano Belletti and Edmilson on Thursday Telegraph picture

Former Argentine international Javier Saviola feels it’s up to Lionel Messi to decide on his international future. Messi hasn’t played for Argentina since the two-time World Cup champions flopped in Russia, losing to eventual winners France 2-4 in the second round.

“Leo should be allowed to relax. Leave Leo alone… He has to decide on his future. He has to decide what he wants to do with the national team. If he gets the answer we should all welcome him back. If he doesn’t, then we should all move on,” Saviola said at a media conference, on Thursday.

Saviola is in town for Friday’s Barcelona Legends versus Mohun Bagan Legends match, along with an array of former Barca stars like 2002 World Cup winners Edmilson, Juliano Belletti and Legends coach Albert Ferrer, a member of Spain’s 1992 Olympic Games-winning squad.

Messi has won everything with Barcelona, but in Argentina colours he finished runners-up in three major tournaments — 2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa America and 2016 Copa America Centenario.

According to Saviola, Messi’s success in Barcelona is because he grew up playing there. “He knows Barcelona inside out. On the field, he knows what to expect from teammates and they know what he wants,” he said.

Argentina haven’t won the World Cup since 1986. In the Russia World Cup too they had talented players, but once again it was a story of false hope. Saviola said Argentina need to play as a team. “We always had good players. But we have to learn to play as a team. In big tournaments, the day we start playing as a team and not as individuals, we will again be at the place where we used to be,” he said.

Saviola is one of the few players who have played both for Barcelona as well as their bitter rivals Real Madrid. He also has the experience of playing Boca Juniors versus River Plate matches. “‘El Clasico’ is a global event. It’s played between two of the biggest clubs in the world. I enjoyed being part of it. And fans made River Plate versus Boca clashes special. It’s more confined to Argentina. Both the Derbies were a different experience for me,” he said.

Legends coach Ferrer was a part of Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona team, which won the 1991-92 European Cup beating Sampdoria. Talking about Cruyff and his ‘Dream Team’, Ferrer said the Dutchman treaded a path which nobody had dared to before. “Those days we were playing a three-man defence! Can you believe it. He saw things before anyone else. Those eight seasons I played in Barcelona, I would not ever forget.”

And what about former teammate and the present Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola, who is influenced by Cruyff’s idea of football. “Pep does the same thing with more velocity and more tactics. Overall, the players change, but the philosophy remains the same,” he said.

Talking about the present Barcelona team, Ferrer said the players would have to play consistently well to be in the running for titles. “Last season was difficult. Neymar left and then new coach (Ernesto Valverde) came over. It was not easy. Remember what happened versus AS Roma in the Champions League? It’s very difficult in Europe. Still Barcelona won the League and King’s Cup in style.”

According to Ferrer, Xavi and Andres Iniesta leaving was a big blow to Barca. “It’s impossible to replace those two. Yes new players are coming in… It would take time. But at the same time we have to keep on winning titles,” he said.

Belletti was asked about what went through his mind when he scored the match-winner against Arsenal in the Champions League final in 2006. “That remains the most memorable day of my playing career.”

Edmilson was asked about Brazil’s lack of success in successive World Cups. “It’s difficult to say why we are not performing well at the World Cup. We have the players, but it’s not happening. Hopefully, Brazil will win in Qatar.

And what about Neymar’s decision to leave Barca? “It’s a personal decision,” Edmilson said.