Messi international obituary may have future chapter despite retirement announcement
Robbie Purves | June 27, 2016
Messi announces Argentina exit
At the age of 29, Lionel Messi has called an end to his Argentina international career, after blazing a penalty far over the bar in a shoot-out that saw Chile retain their Copa America title.
Speaking after the devastating defeat, Messi said: “I tried so hard to be champion with Argentina. But it didn’t happen. I couldn’t do it. I think it’s best for everyone, for me and for many people who want it. The choice for me is over, it is a decision. I tried many times [to be a champion] but did not.”
The defeat continued Argentina’s 23-year trophyless run and Messi’s own personal misery, extending to four lost finals with the national side – at the 2014 World Cup against Germany and three Copa Americas, in 2007, 2015 and now 2016.
The stage was set for Messi to collect his first international title with La Albiceleste, scoring an impressive 21-minute hat-trick to progress into the quarter-finals and produced this piece of magic against the semis against the USA…
However, the defeat to Chile proved too much for the Barcelona man. Messi’s decision to retire from international football seems more an emotional reaction than a logical, calculated step – as the 2018 World Cup in Russia approaches.
The four-time Champions League winner has scored 453 times in 531 games, including a La Liga record 312 goals, and won the Ballon d’Or five times. Yet, will always be compared to Diego Maradona who provided Argentina with a World Cup.
Messi second to Maradona
Critics believe that his failure to win anything significant, barring the Olympic medal, in Argentina colours has put Messi a level below the legendary Maradona.
The World Cup winner himself has consistently criticised Messi throughout his career, on the eve of the tournament, when handed a microphone he commented: “He (Messi) doesn’t have the personality to be a leader.”
A year earlier he bemoaned the treatment the star gets: “People have got to stop droning on about Messi needing to be pampered.”
Maradona’s almost constant disapproval of the star could be one of two things, a genuine desire to see his nation triumph despite his damaging comments, or perhaps jealousy of an age the current Barca star plays in, and the similarities he sees in Messi to himself.
Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi, a native Argentine, said after the Copa final: “My generation can’t compare him to Maradona that’s for my generation, because of what Maradona did for Argentine football. But I think the best player ever, played today here in the United States.”
There is also a sense that Messi did not ‘do his time’ in Argentina. The Barcelona leading scorer was brought up a Newell’s Old Boys fan and joined the Rosario club when he was just six-years-old. During the six years he was with Newell’s, he scored almost 500 goals as a member of “The Machine of ’87”, the near-unbeatable youth side named for the year of their birth.
However, it is the hasty departure of the Messi at 13 years old, that many often highlight as the reason for the mixed opinion surrounding La Liga’s record scorer. Messi never played senior club football in his native land, Maradona on the other hand had four senior club spells, starting and ending his career in South America.
Messi’s international emergence
As a dual Argentine–Spanish national, Messi was eligible to play for the national team of both countries, but chose his native land. Just five days after his 17th birthday, he made his debut for his country against Paraguay, scoring once and providing two assists in their 8–0 victory. He was subsequently included in the squad for the South American Youth Championship in 2004.
Messi employed a personal trainer to increase his stature, returning to the squad in improved condition in time for the World Youth Championship in 2005. The player shone and proved crucial in clinching the title, scoring an equaliser against Colombia, netting against favourites Spain, and notching against reigning champions Brazil.
Ahead of the final, he was awarded the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. Messi scored two penalties in their 2–1 victory over Nigeria, clinching Argentina’s fifth championship.
After impressing at youth level, senior manager Jose Pekerman gave Messi his first call up for a friendly against Hungary in 2005, and was sent of after two minutes into the game, laying the foundations for a roller-coaster international career. Messi was reportedly found weeping in the dressing room.
He was then selected for the 2006 World Cup, and became the youngest player to represent Argentina at the competition. The manager’s decision to leave him out of their quarter-final exit was widely criticised.
The magician began to evolve into the greatest player on the planet, as Argentina steam-rolled their way into the 2007 Copa America final. In a surprise result they were defeated by Brazil, one of many disappoints Messi would have to endure throughout his international career.
Barcelona had legally barred the player from representing his nation at the 2008 Olympics as it coincided with their Champions League qualifying matches. However, Messi headed to Beijing after interference from newly appointed manager Pep Guardiola, who won the tournament in 1992.
He scored in the opening game and made it through to the semis where they defeated their Copa rivals Brazil 3-0. They then went on to claim gold after a win against Nigeria.
The national team then experienced a three-year period of poor results. Under manager Maradona, the South American outfit struggled to make the 2010 World Cup, qualifying in their last game. During his tenure as manager, Messi scored only one goal.
Just as in 2006, they came up against Germany and were embarrassed 4-0 with Messi, despite having an exceptional tournament, receiving criticism back home for failing to guide an average squad to glory.
Their 2011 Copa campaign ended in similar disappointment, with striker Carlos Tevez, who enjoyed far greater popularity among the Argentine public praised, while Messi was booed.
World Cup woe
Coming off the back of an injury plagued club campaign, the now Argentina captain had doubts surrounding his form. However, he was voted man of the match in the nation’s first four games.
La Albiceleste found themselves in the final against Germany, who were coming off a 7-1 win over hosts Brazil.
In the 113th minute of the game, Mario Gotze broke Argentine hearts with a goal that enraged fans. Messi missed chances to open the scoring throughout the match. Another final lost.
A year before his eventual retirement, Messi took part in the 2015 Copa America final against Chile. The stage was set for him to end the nation’s baron trophy spell. Messi enjoyed an outstanding campaign and had turned into the team’s symbolic leader.
Argentina came into the final as odds-on favourites, but were defeated 4-1 in a penalty shootout against Chile. The game was a physical, aggressive match up with the Barca star receiving most of the opposition’s ‘attention’. A year later Messi announced his retirement after another loss to Chile through penalties.
Argentine team in tatters
La Albiceleste are now in a bleak position. His teammate Sergio Aguero said after the Copa final that other Argentine players, including himself; Javier Mascherano, Gonzalo Higuain, Lucas Biglia, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria would imitate their captain, by walking away from their nation.
This a questionable attitude to have, if Messi wants to become the undisputed best Argentine player of all time, surely he has to stay, fight for a trophy, and emerge a hero. The 2018 World Cup in Russia is fast approaching, and will provide the players thinking of dropping their national duties with a chance to redeem themselves and go one step further than they did in Brazil 2014.
Coral have Argentina 10/1 to win the next World Cup, but their chances of lifting the coveted golden trophy will be significantly damaged if the international exodus occurs.
Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero said: “I can’t imagine a national team without Messi.”
Messi retiring would not only be devastating to Argentina, but for world football, how can a player turn his back on a nation no matter how many years of disappointment and hurt he experiences.