Lionel Messi and other big stars have taken a time out from the stress of playing for Argentina to leave room for some fresher faces to have a chance

Little has been resolved since Argentina limped out of the World Cup in Russia less than two months ago but for a nation held in a stranglehold of incompetence that has been failing institutionally for years, the squad for September’s friendlies provides reason for optimism.

The squad that travels to the United States next month to face Guatemala and Colombia contains only nine of the players that fell to France and although the team may well look very different by the time the 2019 Copa América comes round, several of the core that are expected to lead La Albiceleste to Qatar in 2022 should be on show.

One question yet to be answered is who will be in charge and with a shortage of realistic candidates the cash-strapped AFA are taking their time.

Lionel Scaloni and his assistant Pablo Aimar have taken temporary control fresh from leading the Under-20s to the COTIF tournament in Spain and there senior squad is suitably youthful.

The uncertainty has seen Lionel Messi ask for some time off, presumably until the AFA get their act together in 2019 and Scaloni has seen no issue with that.

“I would give him space to breathe. I would tell him ‘play in Europe and stop traveling so you don’t get tired any more’. He shouldn’t play in friendlies just because the national team earns more with him. Messi shouldn’t be moving around for money,” the interim boss told the press.

However Messi isn’t the only one from the agonisingly underachieving golden generation to not be heading to the United States.

Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia have hung up their international boots and the likes of Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ángel Di María and Nicolás Otamendi are all missing allowing space for plenty of those who missed out on Russia and a handful of young players gaining useful experience.

Paulo Dybala, another underused footballer by Sampaoli, will likely fill the void left by Messi and will be aiming to strike up a partnership with Mauro Icardi.

The Inter captain had a fleeting trial under Sampaoli in difficult circumstances and then dropped back down the pecking order and so a fresh start sees Icardi trying to claim the number nine spot.

In the absence of El Jefecito’s energetic, biting displays in front of the back four, Santiago Ascacibar provides a natural replacement and along with classy Leandro Paredes and the inexplicably ignored in Russia, Giovani Lo Celso, there is the foundation of a promising midfield three.

Defence remains an area of weakness and nothing signifies this as much as the return of Ramiro Funes Mori being billed as an upgrade. Independiente youngster Alan Franco, one of a group of Superliga talents included, is one for the future while Germán Pezzella and Walter Kannemann provide alternatives that are deserving of their overdue opportunities.

September’s fixtures provide a chance to take a closer look and for some players to gain useful experience away with the national team. There is no question that the future remains very uncertain and no one could blame Messi for waiting to see what the AFA do next.

The youth system hasn’t produced anywhere near as many quality sides but there are still individuals who could contribute to a new era for La Albicelete. If Messi can be persuaded back, a talented coach within a system that has the foresight to look at the long-term is selected and some of these young players can find their feet, Argentina can remain a threat.

That remains a big if.


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