Roberto Ayala: Messi is “a reference in every sense” for Argentina

Roberto Ayala has spoken about his relationship with Diego Maradona and also detailed the role played by Lionel Messi in the Argentine setup. The former defender is on Lionel Scaloni’s coaching staff with the Albiceleste.

Ayala, speaking in Libero with comments carried by Diario Sport, was full of praise for Lionel Messi, who he briefly shared a dressing room with when they were at opposite ends of their international careers. “He’s a beast,” Ayala said. “He’s someone ordinary, who wants to be treated as one of the others. But he plays so beautifully, so well.

“I enjoyed having him as a teammate and I enjoy having him here. He’s a reference in every sense because of the importance he holds for his teammates and how he communicates. He wants to be here, and he really feels the national team. Hopefully fate will give him something with this shirt, because he’s looking for it and wants it more than anyone.”

Ayala also made clear that Messi is very much the leader or the Argentine team. “Messi is a leader with his game and also with his words,” he said. “I notice it by his behaviour with his teammates. When I see how they handle themselves [around him], you realise you’re looking at a reference.”

Ayala touched on his relationship with Maradona, who he became close friends with. “It’s difficult to talk about him, because whatever you say will never be enough [to describe him].”

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Ayala referred to a gift the late Maradona gave him after a charity match in Morocco. “The game ended and we were both sitting in the locker room,” he said. “He took off the captain’s tape and gave it to me. I didn’t know what to do. I never asked anyone for anything. But I asked him if he could sign it for me, and he dedicated it to me. He wrote: ‘for my captain’.

“It hurts me to not have him among us, as he was a guy who made me happy. If I had a problem the day before, Diego knew it.” Ayala also said of how Maradona lifted up his teammates. “He made you believe that you were very good,” he said. “I remember the speeches he’d do at the 2006 World Cup in the dressing room before games. I wanted to go out and eat up the pitch.”

Ayala, formerly of Valencia and Real Zaragoza in Spain, was the first Argentine to play for Napoli since Maradona’s legendary stint at the southern Italian club. He said he remembered going to a restaurant in the city and going to pay only for the owner to tell him “here an Argentine doesn’t pay, because Diego already paid us more than that with everything he gave us.”

Tags Barcelona Lionel Messi Roberto Ayala Valencia