Thursday, May 19

From Paul, the smile of Leo Messi | America’s Soccer Cup 2021

Messi greets De Paul, in the triumph of Argentina against Ecuador.
Messi greets De Paul, in the triumph of Argentina against Ecuador.DIEGO VARA / Reuters

“We are going to invite Leo to have some mates.” It was March 2019 and the Argentine team played two friendlies (Venezuela and Morocco) at the Wanda Metropolitano. Lionel Scaloni was, at that time, an interim coach and Lionel Messi was returning to a call-up after the fiasco of Russia 2018. The Albiceleste was in full renovation and, in the concentration at the Eurostars Madrid Tower, the Rosario was the newest in the squad. Then, Rodrigo de Paul (Buenos Aires, 27 years old) suggested to his roommate, Leandro Paredes (Buenos Aires, 27), that they had to integrate the 10. They took some Spanish decks, the mate and headed towards Messi’s room . “Leo, we played a trick and took some dunks,” asked the Udinese midfielder. Messi accepted. And now, every time he crosses the pond, the Flea is no longer separated from De Paul.

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When the World Cup in Russia ended, the small table disintegrated, the name by which the group led by Messi was known because of how they were located in the Albiceleste meals. Mascherano and Biglia announced that they would not continue in the national team, while Higuaín and Banega were not called up again. Before, in 2017, when Jorge Sampaoli took command of the team, Ezequiel Lavezzi had left the band completed by Di María and Sergio Agüero. Lavezzi’s loss was not a minor detail. He was the soul of the group, the guy who unzipped with a joke when tension, repeated for a selection questioned for its lack of results, took over concentration. “De Paul is a bit like Pocho (Lavezzi), he’s the guy who with his charisma and self-confidence makes Leo laugh,” they say from the Argentine team. And you already know how necessary the smile of 10 is.

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Messi feels comfortable when they treat him to you. And De Paul, unknowingly, is what he did. In fact, in 2020, the Udinese player phoned 10 to ask how he was going to travel to a match with the national team. The Rosario confirmed what he already knew: in his private plane. And the former Racing and Valencia player invited himself on the fly. It happened, then, that in Argentina people began to speak of De Paul as the new jester of 10, something that irritated the captain, but especially at the wheel. “He is a very important player because of what he gives us in the middle of the court, with and without the ball. We try to find each other and always be close: by my position, by the way I play, by the area of ​​the court where I move. We got to know each other and the truth is that I feel very good playing with him ”, analyzed Messi.

Raised in the Racing quarry, De Paul signed for Valencia in 2014: five million euros. After 44 games and two goals, the midfielder asked to return to Avellaneda to play the Copa Libertadores with the team of his life. He never returned to Mestalla. In 2016, he went to Udinese. He became the benchmark. Team captain, De Paul has scored 34 goals and provided 36 assists in 184 games. In the middle, he became an undisputed for Scaloni: he participated in 28 of the 33 matches of the coach at the head of the Albiceleste. “We do not give anything to anyone, here are the best, those who believe that their club do things well. Rodrigo is an important player ”, said the coach. Simeone, renewed yesterday until 2024, who is always attentive to what happens in the Argentine team, wants to fish for Atlético at the wheel of Udinese. His future is close to Madrid, but first he wants to lift the Copa América. Nothing would make Messi smile more.

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