Fresh from Argentina’s 3-2 friendly victory over Russia in Moscow, Diego Maradona confirmed a third member in what he considers his untouchables, players who are destined to start in the World Cup (should Argentina make it, which is looking increasingly less sure).
Was it Lisandro López, who set the pace in the second half and scored the second goal? Was it Jesús Dátolo who scored the third and celebrated it with a massive hug of Maradona? Was it Lavezzi, Agüero, Tevez, Diego Milito or any other host of attacking players from top European clubs.
Nope, it’s a winger from Newcastle United. Yes, that’s the Championship’s Newcastle United.
Now, obviously you can’t blame Jonás Gutierrez for Newcastle’s drop into English football’s second division, but it seems strange to confirm a player who, for the moment at least, is not exactly facing premium opposition. Nor has he exactly been a leading light in the Toon’s’ lineup.
So why did Diego fall in love?
It has a lot to do with the same reasons why Javier Mascherano is in the same group. Sure, there’s talent and physical presence, but they also have a huge amount of desire to be on the team and to win with Argentina. Whatever evils you can bring up about Maradona (and I can list a number of them), there are two things you can never deny: he was as talented as any other player in the game ever was (in my opinion, more than any other) and he was always ready to put on his national shirt and play for Argentina.
You can’t always say the same about other talented players. Sometimes national squad duty can seem more of a burden than a prize. And given some of the characters that have occupied the Argentina managerial seat, it’s no surprise some players chose to stay away rather than submit to a regime they didn’t care for (I’m looking at you Fernando Redondo and Daniel Passarella).
But Diego was different. He didn’t care. He just wanted to play and win for Argentina. And I think he sees the same kind of desire in those three players. Jonás has earned a spot not with showy performances on the pitch, but rather with a significant level of consistency (he’s not necessarily a game-breaker, but he’s never underperformed) and with the sheer desire to spend 90 minutes hawling his ass from one end of the pitch to the other and doing whatever it takes.
Time will tell whether these 3 are correct, but there’s no reason to detract from any of them. It’s really all more likely to depend on that final 8 (plus the 12 others who will support them) to determine what Argentina’s fate will be in the World Cup, assuming they get there.
Next up, Brazil at home. Uff.