Almost instantly after the Copa America final, Argentina captain Lionel Messi announced his retirement from the national team. Messi claimed, “It clearly wasn’t for him”. Quickly following him, Barcelona teammate Javier Mascherano and best friend Sergio Agüero also announced their decision to leave the national team.
Mascherano’s decision doesn’t quite shock me. He is 32 years old and will be 34 the next time Argentina plays an international tournament. Although his level of play hasn’t decreased, it doesn’t surprise me that Mascherano has decided to leave before it does.
Lionel Messi, on the other hand, does come to a surprise to me. At 29 years old, he’s entering his peak of his career. On average, forwards peak from ages 27-31. That, of course, doesn’t seem to do justice to Messi, who has been the best in the World since he was 22. However, his reasons for leaving are completely understandable.
First of all, it’s important to remember that Messi also has Spanish citizenship, after living there more than 15 years. As a rising star, he had the choice of playing in either Spain or his home country Argentina. In the end, he chose Argentina, because he claimed that was his home. It was the country he loved and nothing would make him happier than winning a title with the albiceleste.
If he’d chosen Spain, he would’ve been able to play with Spain’s golden generation, including teammates Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique, and Pedro. He would’ve won at least two Euro Cups and a World Cup with them thus ending the whole “Messi isn’t an all-time great because he’s never won a World Cup” debate, but he didn’t. He chose Argentina. Unfortunately for him, his native country didn’t seem so appreciative of his decision.
It took him years to truly win over the country. Often falling in comparisons with the great Diego Maradona, Messi always seemed to come up a bit short. It appeared to bother many Argentinians the fact that he didn’t sing the national anthem before games, unlike Diego who was known for his sentimental outburst during the anthem.
Even at a young age, Messi was expected to go out and end Argentina’s title drought almost singlehandedly. Whenever the team would come up short, Messi would always be the scapegoat. It didn’t seem to matter that he was a big reason why the team was even competing for those titles in the first place.
Year after year, the pressure from the country continued to grow, as their patience ran thin with the national team. The 2014 World Cup was practically demanded by the entire country, and when the team came up just short, their captain was to blame. Never mind the fact that he scored four of the team’s six goals in the group stage and gave out the game winning assist to Di Maria in the Round of 16 against Switzerland. Never mind the fact that in the final, Higuain had a marvelous chance that he completely butchered, or the fact that both Di Maria and Agüero were injured for the final. No, in the end, it was, again, Messi’s fault.
Sadly, the story continues year after year. For example, during this year’s Copa America, Messi came in and dominated the tournament, since his debut. He played a magical style of soccer and scored some indescribable goals. His supporting cast lets him down in the final, again, and it’s entirely his fault.
People are so quick to criticize and ridicule his penalty miss, as if none of the great players have ever missed a penalty in a shootout. In fact, in all his years with Argentina, this was Messi’s first miss in a penalty shootout. Nonetheless, Messi’s miss wasn’t the decisive blow to the shootout. His miss just kept the score even after Arturo Vidal’s miss. It was actually Biglia’s miss that cost Argentina the tournament, but I have yet to hear his name being mentioned.
Last night’s loss was Messi’s fourth defeat in a final with Argentina. The man’s heart can’t take anymore. Sure, it’s fun to laugh and make jokes as a third party, but as a player, imagine leading your team to four finals and having your heart broken in all four. The fact that Argentina has made it to four finals in a decade, three of them in a row, is an amazing accomplishment that very few teams have been able to accomplish.
Messi is understandably exhausted from all the disappointments in the past three years. It also doesn’t help that the country he loves continues to criticize him and question his loyalty instead of supporting him through tough times. At times, it appears as if non-Argentinian fans have his back more than the country himself.
He’ll now focus on just Barcelona, a team that truly appreciates him, with a fan base that will always support him. I understand the decision was tough for him, but it’s a logical one. For the sake of the Argentina National Team, I hope he changes his mind and comes back. Sure the absences of Mascherano and Agüero will be huge, but Argentina without Messi will, if lucky, just squeeze into the World Cup.
Congratulations Argentina, you had the best player in the World choosing to wear your jersey, and you failed to support him. Now, good luck with trying to figure out your future.