Claims that Lionel Messi exerts an influence on Argentina’s squad selection have been dismissed by the star attacker as a “total lie”.
Messi’s brilliant hat-trick in Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against Ecuador last month ensured his side will be at the finals in Russia next year.
Argentina 8/1 to win the World Cup
Despite his importance on the pitch, the Barcelona forward has been subject to speculation suggesting he holds too much influence over who plays for Argentina.
Inter captain Mauro Icardi, who is married to the ex-wife of Messi’s friend Maxi Lopez, had not been selected since 2013 before returning to the group under Jorge Sampaoli.
But Messi is adamant he has never held any sway over the coach’s decisions.
“It was said that I didn’t want Icardi coming to the national team, but I’ve never decided if a player comes or not,” Messi said in an interview with TyC Sports.
“Now it’s coming out that all that was said was a lie. I never said I didn’t want Icardi in the national team, nor did I make anyone leave other players out.
“Telling great players that they’re only playing because they’re Messi’s friend is disrespectful — and it’s also a total lie because I don’t run the national team.”
[SELECCIÓN MAYOR] Así se entrenó esta mañana @Argentina en Rusia. ¡Mirá el video del equipo que dirige Jorge Sampaoli! pic.twitter.com/OO9P4WmOT4
— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) November 8, 2017
While Icardi has been called up by Sampaoli, Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain has been omitted from recent squads, despite his prolific form in Serie A.
And Messi defended Higuain against criticism that he has failed to perform for Argentina in key matches, such as their 2014 World Cup final loss to Germany and back-to-back Copa America showpiece defeats to Chile in 2015 and 2016, both of which were settled on penalties after scoreless draws.
“The truth is that it hurts — everything that was said at this time,” Messi said. “We played the final of a World Cup, two Copa America finals, at least two of the three [we] deserved to win.
“We did not win — and we all went through that. [Higuain] had the situations he had and they took it against him, but we are used to being told atrocities about us.
“We all had hard times, beyond what was achieved. There was a lot of hard blows to this group. I talk to everyone, we have a great relationship, we have played together for many years and we know each other.”
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Messi also denied having a problem with Higuain’s Juve team-mate Paulo Dybala, who has said he finds it hard to play with the 30-year-old, as they occupy similar positions on the pitch.
“There’s nothing to clarify with Dybala,” Messi said. “I knew what he meant from the first moment.”
Should Argentina ultimately lift the trophy in Russia, Messi has vowed to complete a 65-kilometre pilgrimage on foot — starting in his hometown of Rosario.
“If we win the World Cup, I promise to walk from Rosario to San Nicolas,” he said.
But Messi does not consider the Albiceleste to be favourites next summer, highlighting Spain as one powerhouse he’d particularly like to avoid.
He told ESPN: “Spain, Brazil, Germany and France are the teams with the best image at the moment. I think they are the favourites.
“I would not like to face Spain in the group. I would prefer to avoid them because of what their team represents, for what they have [in terms of talent]. They’d be a very difficult opponent.”