Leo's last roar
People had taken to their beds after Chile was done crushing another Argentinian dream, but then the phones beeped.
The breaking news said that the ‘little’ magician Lionel Messi had announced his retirement and everything went numb. Each hand frantically searched through the Internet and realised that the reality was harsh; they may never get to see “Messi magic” in the Argentinian colours. And not all were Messi fans.
A hollow feeling crept through the world as ‘Messi retires’ trended on the social media. It was the most buzzing ‘story’ despite the fact that Chile had managed to beat the South American giants twice, in two years.
Chile had lost the very first game of Copa America Centenario and that too against Argentina itself. This was the ray of hope that made the Argentinians and Messi fans worldwide believe that this time around, Messi will lead his team beyond the final line.
Lionel Messi and Argentina were haunted by the memories of the previous Copa America where after 120 minutes of play, the scoreline remained at nil and Chile won the crown beating La Albiceleste on penalties. Despite best efforts from the Argentina national team, Chile recreated history, riding on the heroics of their captain Claudio Bravo, and the hopes and wants of a whole nation saw a devastating climax.
The matter was crucial; the loss wasn’t just a loss. Argentina had lost their third major final in three years. Lionel Messi had joined the national team in 2005 and since then, he has been a part of four major finals and has lost them all.
The first of the losses was Copa America 2007 where they lost 3-0 to Brazil. This was when Lionel Messi wasn’t leading the team in national colours. Subsequently, Messi led Argentina into the final of World Cup 2014 where they lost 1-0 to Germany in extra time and then into the final of Copa America 2015 where they lost on penalties with the captain being the only one to have converted the spot kick.
What made things worse was the fact that in this Copa America – the Argentinian magician – Lionel Messi missed the penalty. He missed the first spot kick of his team and of course, that put the rest of the players under immense pressure. In such a scenario, the 30-year-old Lucas Biglia couldn’t hold his nerves and missed another penalty eventually leading to Argentina’s loss.
Lionel Messi is undoubtedly one of the greatest ever to have played the game. The achievements he has under his belt are unmatched but the one thing he misses is a major trophy with his country. The five time Ballon d’Or winner has won the accolade four times in a row. He is the first player to have won three European Golden Shoes and he is the highest goal scorer of La Liga with 464 goals.
He also holds the record of scoring most goals in a calendar year (91) and a single season (73).
Messi, being the creative playmaker that he is, made the most number of assists in La Liga and Copa America.
The list of Messi’s achievements doesn’t end there. He has won eight La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and four Copa del Rey titles with Barcelona. Looking at the statistics and trophies with his club Barcelona, one would easily think that he has had an equally successful campaign with his national squad but that is exactly where the glitch in his otherwise pompous career lies.
The only campaign in which Argentina has managed to cross the final line with Messi in the squad is the 2008 Summer Olympics. Rest of the picture has almost been tragic. When one thinks over the curious case of Lionel Messi with the national side, it becomes difficult to understand the exact reasons for the failure of the great Leo with the Argentinian team.
Analysing the games, one can say that the amount of pressure Lionel Messi felt with Argentina was humungous, because of the similarity in the style of play and the effect of the on-field presence, Messi started getting compared to Maradona pretty early in his career.
To add to that comparison, Messi had a solo goal against Getafe which was strikingly similar to Maradona. With the constant comparisons, he began to be touted as the one who would get Argentina back to its glorious days that Maradona brought in his times.
Another factor that adds to the misery of Messi and the Argentinian squad is the fact that Messi has always had a deadly support around him back at Barcelona but in Argentina, he may have found that decisiveness missing. Despite Argentina boasting of some very well-known players like
Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano and Angel Di Maria, all of them together haven’t somehow clicked and haven’t been able to take the team till the very end.
A very major point that may be debatable, but seems pretty true, is the inability of the Argentinian team to thrive under pressure. The players are all world-class but somehow with their national squad, they crack under load. The idea seems legitimate because Argentina have been unable to establish the strength in all the finals that they initially displayed in the tournament.
Regardless of all reasons, every heart broke watching Lionel Messi cry the way he did after missing the penalty and eventually losing the Copa America final. It was a visual that one wouldn’t want to see; a champion’s head hung low.
Messi announced his retirement through Argentina football’s official Twitter account when he said, “For me, the national team is over. I’ve done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion.” He further added, “It’s been four finals, I tried.
It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn’t get it, so I think it’s over. I think this is best for everyone. First of all for me, then for everyone. I think there are lots of people who want this, who obviously are not satisfied, as we are not satisfied reaching a final and not winning it. It’s very hard, but the decision is taken. Now I will not try more and there will be no going back.”
Post Messi’s tweet, even his teammate Sergio Aguero tweeted describing the Argentina dressing room as “the worst I’ve ever been in.” He also mentioned that there are several other players who are considering retirement as well. He wrote, “It is the worst defeat ever, worse than the two other finals. So the thinking is it might be time to make room for other players.”
The Argentine football is in deep trouble at the moment with Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Aguero having announced retirement and Lucas Biglia, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain considering the same.
The city of Argentina is under shock but is begging Messi to reconsider his decision and come back home. Argentine football legend Diego Maradona blamed the country’s football association for Argentina’s recent failures and urged Messi to come back. Argentine president Mauricio Macri’s spokesperson said that the president called up Lionel Messi to express” how proud he was of the team’s performance” .
The world began discussing the reasons for Messi’s sudden emotional outburst and talked about the probability of the constant pressure and criticism taking its toll on him. Ernesto Vecchio, Messi’s first coach, said, “This lad is just saturated with criticism and being so badly treated.”
It’s true that the amount of expectations Messi handles isn’t easy, but how perceptive it is to give up. How fair is it to the country who you give your blood and sweat to? Messi had the chance of changing his nationality and play in the Spanish national side but he chose otherwise. How wise does it make him to let go of his dream so soon?
It’s a known fact that Messi has had to struggle with his health in his childhood and he rose over the problems and complexities to achieve his dream of playing the game he loves. He mentioned in his statement that the decision is best for him but one can ask that is it truly best for him let slip a dream so cherished?
Messi’s decision has great repercussions on the world and especially Argentine football, including the fact that people have followed him out of the national side. Will he really feel good when his country’s football will be dwindling with its future and he would know that he may someday be able to take Argentina to the top?
As the world is still trying to come in terms with Messi’s decision, hope is the only light amongst the dark clouds over the international football; hope that the ‘little magician’ would fare well but won’t say farewell.