BUENOS AIRES - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's comparison of Lionel Messi with a video game figure tallies with the view in Argentina that the little Barcelona ace is a throwback to an unfettered football era.
"To play like that in a Champions League quarter-final as if it were a game in a vacant lot, that's what is astonishing," said Messi's Argentina team-mate Juan Sebastian Veron.
Veron was voicing the opinion of many Argentines after watching Barcelona's 4-1 win over Arsenal on television on Tuesday night in which Messi scored all four of his team's goals.
"He always plays as if he was under no pressure," Veron, who with Messi is a key player in Argentina coach Diego Maradona's World Cup plans, told reporters in La Plata.
"He's very fast, he can stop suddenly, turn, the best (thing) is how he finishes. He's quick to finish every move...He's the best in the world at the moment," added the Estudiantes captain.
As a little kid growing up in Rosario, the little man nicknamed "The Flea" developed his skills playing with and against older and bigger boys.
When the young Maradona emerged in Buenos Aires in the late 1970s, old timers compared him with players in the golden age of Argentine football in the 1940s when, they said, teams had several Maradonas, among them the great Alfredo di Stefano.
Only a few months ago many Argentines were critical of Messi's low key performances for the national team as they struggled through the qualifiers and risked not making it to the South Africa finals.
Messi, who has lived in Barcelona since the age of 12, was more Catalan than Argentine, some said. He did not empathise with the team's light blue and white colours, they added as an explanation of why he did not show passion playing for his country.
The Spanish sports daily As joked on Thursday: "Is there a way to stop this player now? Only one way: make Maradona his trainer."
All eyes have turned to Maradona during Messi's extraordinary 2010 in which he had already scored three hat-tricks before Tuesday's scintillating performance.
Time may be all Maradona needs to mould a team in which Messi can thrive at the World Cup.
Veron, who remarked earlier this year how much Messi had matured as a person and footballer, said: "If we can take advantage of Messi's potential, we must, but a World Cup is different, there's no margin for error. There's only one match (in the knockout phase).
"Despite his young age, he knows his responsibility and assumes it. He's one of Barcelona's leaders."
Osvaldo Ardiles, a World Cup winner with Argentina in 1978 who later played alongside Maradona, explained why Messi struggled in the qualifiers but would be ready for the World Cup.
"In South America, we play football a little bit differently, it is very difficult for top, top players with a lot of ability like Messi or Maradona to really put on the same form as they show in Europe. They are much more protected in Europe," he told the BBC's Radio 5 Live.
"For him, it's so, so important as he has said he would give up all the medals he has to win the World Cup. It is how he will be judged in the future, so I think we'll see the real Messi."comments