Yes, it’s fact. We will never see Lionel Messi in an Argentina shirt again.
Let that just sink in. The best footballer in the world right now, some would argue the greatest of all time, a five-time Fifa Ballon d’Or winner, never to dazzle again on the international stage. No Lionel Messi at World Cup. No Lionel Messi at Copa America.
But tell me, did Lionel Messi retire or he just quit? Argentina lost their third straight final in the last three years, and when country legend like Diego Maradona orders you not to return home without a trophy, the pressure is loud and clear, the pressure is mounting.
Can you believe it! Messi has not been able to score or make a single assist in the last two finals Argentina have appeared. On Monday morning, playing against Chile in another Copa final, Messi had a golden opportunity to change it all finally. After both of the teams failed to score in regulation time, the deciding encounter went into penalties.
Chile missed the first penalty and it was Messi who stepped up next to take Argentina’s first one. The pint-sized false 9 had to take a few steps before striking the ball wide of target, despite sending the Chile goalkeeper the wrong way. That’s sad! That’s what you call agony! This was his first penalty miss at an international match.
He was in a complete daze by the time he took the shot and a bit confused too. Maybe, it was tiredness. A long season may have finally begun to take its toll. Or probably there was weariness at the repetitive nature of these finals. It was like a dream that would occur many times but its end would remain indecipherable. One final is lost and then another, so that maybe one will be won in the end? Or will the cycle of defeat repeat itself?
Of course, one cannot say with certainty that Argentina would have managed to win the Copa if Messi had converted his spot kick. After all, his teammates in attack, had set a record of new low for a performance in the final of a major tournament once again.
Gonzalo Higuain could not finish a simple one-on-one chance, Sergio Aguero snatched at a shot he should have buried from close range and, well, Angel di Maria did not even get that close. If you talk about unintended sabotage, that was pretty good from Argentina.
Gerardo Martino’s side had scored a tournament-high 18 goals in the lead up to the final. In 120 minutes on Sunday, Argentina scored none. Messi tried to manufacture a few opportunities but none went into the net.
And then there was Messi and his beard. He looked like a battle-hardened warrior. The kind who has lost too many when they have mattered to him much. Messi was seen in a distraught figure, hiding his face in his hands as he slowly made his way towards his teammates. But brushing aside the million-dollar miss, the whole Argentina team walked towards Messi, applauding him, showing their support, showing their love.
Nobody even realized that it was going to be the last time they would be seeing their teammate in national colours. The pressure to deliver all along the way may have been emotionally straining for Lionel Messi.
Still, the Argentine’s decision to retire from international football looks more emotional than a logical one as the World Cup is not very far away. However, it’s not the first time a football superstar announced retirement, but only to comeback and play for his country later.
We all know, Zidane did it in 2004. He came out of the retirement to appear in the 2006 World Cup. Also, Messi is just 29 years of age, which seems too young for a player of his stature to call time on his colourful career.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has enjoyed unbelievable success playing at club level for Barcelona but you cannot ignore, it eluded him in the international stage. Critics still believe that his failure to win anything significant for Argentina except the Olympic medal, has pulled down him a peg below the legendary Diego Maradona.
Messi could have won the World Cup last year, but his dream was crushed by the Germans. His team lost twice to Chile in the Copa finals in the last two years. It looks like the pressure to succeed, the pressure to match Maradona has agonizingly driven away his spirit to fight against the odds.
Yes, we’ll see him once again in the Barcelona shirt, patching up with Neymar and Luis Suarez at the glorious Nou Camp. But if he sticks to his international retirement decision, his time with Argentina is over. It’s the end of an era. His era. Will watching an Argentina match ever be the same again?
Messi’s success forced many to speculate how it must feel like to be him. But on Sunday night, it was really tough being Messi. No one would dare to imagine. To Swap a body with him was a thought best sent to the vast wilderness.