Another perfect image of Lionel Messi hoisting the World Cup into the sky while perched on Sergio Agüero’s shoulder contains an unfortunate stain. It is an awkward reminder of what all this has accomplished. Messi was there exalted in the rafters of Argentina’s players and lovers in various states of rapture and euphoria, and then back and above him; losing heris Lautaro Martínez. Entering the tournament, the 25-year-old striker had scored seven goals in 15 Serie A appearances for Inter Milan; He led Argentina’s squad for the most part in four years, leading a decisive role in the 2021 Copa America victory. But Martínez was dull in Qatar, did not have a shot on target in his first two World Cup attempts, and missed several chances to bury the game against France in the final.
“Lautaro saved us several times,” Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni said after the narrow round of 16 win against Australia earlier this month. Again, his striker did not have many chances to turn the cut, but he insisted on protecting Scaloni. Martínez is a quality player – you won’t get to Inter Milan by chance – but Argentina’s problem is that he is out and about as a striker. If he doesn’t score, he doesn’t offer much else, and in this World Cup, the team had no place for passengers.
It was fate that the bulk of Messi’s playing time was spent on the bench in this tournament. At the age of 35, he found a new gear at Paris Saint-Germain and then Argentina, relegating defensive work and conserving almost every ounce of energy when he finally gets the ball. Another one to run, extend the defense, and complete the adventure for heaven’s sake. That’s where Julián Álvarez comes in. If Martínez’s stock has fallen precipitously in recent weeks, Álvarez’s is through the roof. Álvarez is 22, comes from the village of Calchín in the central province of Córdoba and made his Chile international last summer. Qatar left with four goals—only Messi and Kylian Mbappé scored more goals—getting their first World Cup with an unbeaten power.
Perhaps what we will remember most about Álvarez is running for the 2022 World Cup. The car in the top corner against Poland was a dramatic acquittal of the striker, cleverly developing his limbs to pull off two tricks in the box, one to compose and the other to score. But more often than not, Álvarez’s troubled legs and arms fluttered like paper in the wind when Argentina’s defenders chased possession. Without her, too, Argentina made itself difficult. Aurelien Tchouameni is a bright midfield for France and Real Madrid – in the fourth week of the world class against England, he looked forward to torpedoing the best plans that had been in the party two years ago. But early in the last Sunday, his coolness was destroyed in turn by Álvarez and Enzo Fernández (another young Argentine, for whom life will probably change after this tournament) on his heels as if picking territories after an unwelcome guest. It’s a trigger. If a striker like Álvarez chooses to track and track numbers in the midfield, the ball can be brought back higher up the pitch, and goals are quickly released. Games against the opposition can also become very academic all of a sudden.
Argentina was not a shoo-in to reach the final. In the semis, they faced a well-trained Croatia side that had reached the final four years earlier. But twice in the first 15 minutes, Croatia’s center backs were distracted in quite similar ways, and La Albiceleste not only looked attractive, but also, for the first time in the tournament, established a mode of control in the game. Fernández usually broke through to intercept Luka Modric in the build-up, and Álvarez ran into the space between Dejan Lovren and Josko Gvardiol, who had moved into complementary positions to receive Modric’s pass. First through, Álvarez won the penalty, and in the second unthinkable, he took the finish line. Álvarez shot from the center line and poured the ball into the players’ net. With his attack, Lovren led the ball, knee, head, and himself, and finally entered, through the attack of the will of Álvarez. Buy a ticket, ride, they say.
Álvarez plays under Pep Guardiola for Manchester City, five points behind Premier League leaders Arsenal, and his mobility is his biggest selling point. Unlike Martínez, Álvarez can drop wider or deeper, depending on what the team needs at a given moment. He joined the Argentine club River Plate last January for $19 million, or rather a third of what the city of Borussia Dortmund paid for Erling Haaland, who has 18 goals in 12 league starts and has his song.
Haaland needs to work for both Álvarez and the Premier League next year. When he scores, he never seems to stop, but like Martínez, when he doesn’t (which rarely happens), he doesn’t really affect the game. While Haaland has changed City’s attack, there is still the question of where that change leaves the team in the long run. What to do when his occupation doesn’t stop slipping, when he succumbs to a sketchy history of injuries, or when he simply plays like the 22-year-old Green that was supposed to be? In league losses against Liverpool and, most notably, Brentford before the World Cup break, the solution was steady. In years past, when a striker wasn’t delivering or simply wasn’t there, City could find goals anywhere in the field out of necessity. Haaland’s power introduces hierarchy, which means Kevin De Bruyne doesn’t look to score himself but instead funnels the ball to the main man. When a man cannot step in as a leader, will the city look lost without him?
Álvarez could offer something different and now he’s showing it on the world’s biggest stage. He has only three league starts for City and has been focused on league champions Sevilla since Haaland was sidelined due to injury. He scored four goals in those four appearances, a great, if limited, reason, but it seems unlikely that he will return to a regular starting job. Perhaps the future of Álvarez lies in the wings, where Ferran Torres was explained from time to time in his song at City. Perhaps Álvarez’s progress will be blocked by a continued lack of original football and he will follow a move to another big club that can offer him a crucial role, even like Torres. What we should all be worried about is the first possibility: the day of the game in which Guardiola imagines how both Haaland and Álvarez are caught together on the pitch. as CesIt was said that Fàbregas with playful concern during the World Cup final, “it’s not very pretty”.