By now, we all know that Nicolás González will be joining Argentina in Qatar for the World Cup. He may wind up starting for Lionel Scaloni’s men, not because he’s the most talented winger on the roster, but because he’s very quick and might be used as a constant threat in behind, stretching the play out wide and allowing Lionel Messi and company to conduct their business through the middle.
González has played in 10 of 25 Fiorentina matches this year. Only 4 of those have been starts. He’s battled various leg injuries all season. Even so, he’s scored 4 goals in his 389 minutes, reminding fans that, when fit, he’s probably the best player on the team, capable of deciding games by himself and breaking down the sorts of deep defenses that have frequently frustrated the Viola.
It’s strange that a player who’s missed so many matches at club level, especially with guys like Giovanni Lo Celso, Emiliano Buendía, and Lucas Ocampos all in the running and having fine seasons at the domestic level. While Nico’s as good as or better than any of those on his day, Scaloni must be concerned about his fitness; after all, it’ll have been a month since his last appearance by the time Argentina takes on Saudi Arabia.
What’s stranger is that González, unlike fellow injured winger Riccardo Sottil, has been training in full with Fiorentina for the past couple of weeks. He just hasn’t been fit enough for games. The odd situation has led both manager Vincenzo Italiano and head honcho Joe Barone to question Nico’s commitment to his employer; the tenor of both comments has been that the player’s body is in Florence but his head is already in Qatar. Not surprisingly, some segments of the fanbase have reacted poorly.
Alcuni dei commenti sotto l'ultimo post Instagram di @nicoivang19— SpaceViola Fiorentina (@SpaceViola_) November 15, 2022
Che ne pensate di questa situazione? (Secondo Tyc sport, una tra le più affidabili se non la più affidabile fonte Argentina, oggi si è allenato a parte non avendo ancora smaltito l'infortunio) #Fiorentina pic.twitter.com/ga6MkT4Atz
To be fair to González, he may well have a knock that he feels is keeping him from playing his best. He missed Argentina’s pre-tournament warmup against the UAE today. It’s also hard to imagine him sandbagging that hard and the team’s doctors not raising a fuss. If the man says he’s not ready to play, it makes sense to believe him, even if it strains credulity. For physical or psychological reasons, you can’t rush back a player who isn’t ready.
Still, it’s also easy to see Fiorentina’s side of this. González is, after all, the club’s record signing and its acknowledged top player. To see him suit up for the ultra-high intensity setting of the World Cup doesn’t feel great after he’s missed a bunch of domestic and European fixtures. After all, this is the organization that pays his salary and provides his medical care; if he’s taking the former and using the latter to get ready for his international obligations, the club has a fair point.
This situation hasn’t been uncommon elsewhere over the past couple of weeks. González’ international teammate Cristian Romero has angered some Tottenham Hotspur fans with a “hamstring” injury that’s dissipated just in time for the tournament as well, and there are numerous other examples of these niggling little problems that seem to heal at just the right moment.
As easy as it is to blame the players for these absences, it makes perfect sense. After all, the World Cup only comes around once every four years, and to play in it is to reach the pinnacle of their profession. It’s easy for all of us to type through a screen that we would never, but that’s a fatuous statement because we’ll never be in the situation. We haven’t been in the game for our entire lives, working towards this very moment.
After all, look at Bartłomiej Drągowski: the Spezia and Poland goalkeeper was 40 minutes away from heading to Qatar before a Kevin Lasagna challenge broke his ankle (warning: gruesome); he’s now set to miss out. González, Romero, and other players will see that as reasonable justification for taking it easy at club level for the previous few weeks.
This standoff certainly wasn’t helped by Barone’s combative comments, which have led at least one journalist close to the team to worry that Nico may be on his way out; being called out by your boss and your boss’ boss in the media doesn’t tend to create a harmonious atmosphere, especially since we’ve heard rumblings since this summer that the player may be ready to move on.
Perhaps this is a story blown out of proportion by the dead week between the end of Serie A for six weeks and the start of the World Cup, and Nico will come back feeling refreshed, ready to focus on Fiorentina again, and lead his team up the table and to European glory. If that’s what happens, this little kerfuffle will all be forgotten.
If that’s not how it plays out, though, we’ll look back on this moment as the start of the divorce. And you know what? It’s not really about Nicolás González or Vincenzo Italiano or Fiorentina. It’s about the people at the very top of FIFA who decided (with the help of incomprehensible sums of money from Qatar) that the World Cup should be played in November and December.
It’s easy to look at the smaller characters on this stage and assign blame, but this situation only exists because of the shameless greed of those grotesqueries that treat the game as a vehicle for wealth transfer and nothing else. This whole González situation is a tiny symptom of a system that is corrupt and broken. That system, and those who sacrifice the game at the altar of its profitability, are the ones who deserve your ire. We can’t let ourselves or them forget it.