Argentina coach Edgardo Bauza called upon the rest of the team to help reduce “Messi-dependence.”
Argentina will welcome back star forward Lionel Messi next month for two Olympic qualifying matches after the Barcelona star’s brief international retirement following a loss to Chile in the final of the Copa America Centenario earlier this summer.
Argentina’s all-time leading scorer, with 55 goals in 113 appearances, quit in frustration after missing a penalty in the shootout defeat to Chile — his nation’s third major final loss in three years.
Senior coach Gerardo Martino also stepped down after that failure amid organisational problems in the federation. The loss was followed by a group-stage exit at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, their first elimination at that stage since 1964.
Argentina host Uruguay on Sept. 1 and travel to Venezuela five days later and Bauza told ESPN he is counting on the team to help Messi score.
“Working with Messi has to do with the team. If you look at both the Copa America Centenario semifinal and final, you can see the difference: In one match he had a lot of options [to pass the ball and look for options on offense], in the other he didn’t,” Bauza said.
“The team has to do that for him, they have to be sure that when they pass the ball to him he must have choices to pass it back, because if there is one thing Messi has shown us it is that he makes very good choices. We need to not be Messi-dependent. Yes, he is our MVP, but the rest of the team has to give us more depth as well.”
Bauza reiterated that he understood Messi’s retirement was made in the heat of the moment following the loss to Chile.
“I understood his words. All of us who have played football and have felt the frustration of losing in a final or of not having finished where we wanted to understand,” Bauza said.
He added that after traveling to Barcelona and speaking with Messi, he saw a different player.
“When you sit with him and begin to talk about football, you see that he relaxes a bit,” Bauza said. “That is when you notice that he is still very committed, because he is all about football.”
Bauza said he felt Messi still has “a great desire” to win a major tournament with the Albiceleste.
“Messi continues to be part of the national team, it is part of him. I think he has a great desire to win something with Argentina. And the frustration of losing in finals fuels his desire to win,” Bauza said. “I saw a Leo very interested in the national team and that gave me a sense of calm. We spoke for about 15 minutes about the Copa America, the World Cup qualifying and about the ideas that I had. At that point I knew that he was still on board.”