Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Karim Benzema, Mario Balotelli – what do all these names, uttered copious times over the past month, all have in common? They are all footballers, and each play for their country’s national team. These names have been singled out continuously throughout the past month, and the players themselves have been selected through poorly thought out elitism to represent the team for which they play. They have not been chosen as captains, or for a particular sporting achievement, but have been touted as celebrities in the sport; fawned over by media personalities and raised to the pinnacle of praise – only to be dropped, mocked, and berated when they failed to live up to the impossibly high expectation.
And yet when the final was played, the ones left holding the trophy did not identify as an individual surrounded by shadows, but as a team. It was a result that should have been expected, because Germany, insulted and ignored as they had been throughout the tournament, remained void of any ‘hero’ that they relied on to save them from losing. In fact, as each player raised the trophy and kissed it in turn, it was clear to see just how hard they – and manager Joaquim Loew, had worked to create and maintain the team structure.
If there’s anything that this World Cup in particular has proven, it is that a team can never consist of just one player. We saw this with Balotelli and Ronaldo failing to save their countries in the group stages, with Suarez being banned for four months due to biting his Italian opposition, with Brazil crumbling after the departure of Neymar, and finally, the much talked about ‘humiliation’ following Argentina, and thus inevitably, according to the media, Messi’s defeat in the final on Sunday night.
The ‘Ozil vs Messi’ media treatment is something that has intrigued me throughout the cup. Mesut Ozil, the 25 year old German Midfielder, who also currently plays for Arsenal, has been constantly criticised throughout the tournament, with sports writers dubbing him as ‘lazy’, and leading some to be confused as to why Arsenal chose to spend so much money on him (the purchase from Real Madrid cost the club almost £42.5 million). Yet, statistics show that Ozil, who according to one article ‘barely registered an important kick’, was one of the most vital players in the cup. He assisted goals more than any other player, scored two goals (one of which was extremely vital for the team’s success), and had an 88% passing accuracy. For anyone who watched the matches, it was clear to see that Ozil was one of the key players, dribbling the length of the pitch with the ball and creating goal opportunities for his teammates.
Messi, meanwhile, known for his skills at Barcelona, and also for being regularly compared to Madrid’s Ronaldo, had received the highest of praise superseding the final, where he even won the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player. However, upon closer inspection, Messi was at his finest in the group stages, where he scored the five clinching goals that pulled his team through. In the knockout stages, it was a different story. The quarter final games against Switzerland and Belgium were much closer than expected, considering the team was being led by such a maestro. The semi final against Holland was won by penalties, after Argentina failed to get a goal during the given ninety minutes and the half hour of extra time. Messi, dubbed “the Messiah” by his loyal cult following, failed to live up to the hype. But should we blame him, or feel sympathy towards him? Why does the media seem incapable of levelling the playing field – literally – and focusing on every player? What about Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano? Perhaps this is why they criticise Ozil, because he has faith in Germany as a team, as proven by the countless times he has passed the ball to another player to allow them a shot at goal.
This is not charity on Ozil’s part. He knows, like the majority of the football-watching world knows, that Germany are at their strongest in years. Thomas Muller, coming second for the Golden Ball, scored four goals for the team. Bastian Schweinstager and captain Philip Lahm were the workhorses of the team, transporting the ball from one end to the other with relative ease. And let us not forget Manuel Neuer, the best goalkeeper to enter the world cup in years, and the rightful winner of the Golden Glove.
Germany didn’t win in spite of not having a star player, they won because of it. None of the members of the team looked to one person to score their goals, or to lead them. They’re all star players, and perhaps more importantly, they’re also all team players. Argentina, as demonstrated by their weak attack and the way they rely so heavily on Lionel Messi, are not.