When headlines should have been about Chile’s triumph in the Copa America final, it was instead all about the world’s greatest player calling time on his national team.
Lionel Messi, who turned 29 just three days ago, won’t be wearing the Argentine shirt again after missing in a penalty shootout as La Albiceleste lost a fourth major final in nine years.
“For me, the national team is over,” he said after his 113th and final appearance for his country. “I’ve done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion.”
There may be more to it than that.
The blog was in Buenos Aires recently (making a pilgrimage to Boca’s La Bombonera), and the opinion of Leo Messi is a lot lower than it is in Europe. Here, we adore him. There, the general opinion is that he is a great player who doesn’t love Argentina.
While in the Argentine capital, I was speaking with many locals about the Barcelona star who they told me that they don’t really consider him on of their own. That’s a bit strange? Indeed Messi has been living in Catalonia on a full time basis since February 2001 and spent no time playing in Argentina’s league beyond a youth career with Newell’s Old Boys.
Yet the Barcelona fans also certainly don’t consider Messi as truly theirs. Catalans are very proud people, as patriotic about the autonomous commuinity as the Argentines are about their country. If you were to say to a Catalan that Messi is “on of your own”, they’d certainly laugh at you. It simply doesn’t work like that. Poor Leo is in limbo.
He’s also fed up of the Argentine FA (AFA), who a Buenos Aires taxi driver told me “is run by absolute crooks and gangsters”. Leo even posted an Instagram photo of himself (looking less than pleased) and Sergio Aguero sitting on a plane with the caption “Once again waiting on a plane to leave for our destination. What a disaster AFA are, my God!!!!”
But it’s also worth considering that it’s exactly the national pride Argentines feel that may cause Messi to reverse his decision. To try and win the 2018 World Cup and the Copa America in Brazil a year later could be preferable as opposed to regretting it years later in retirement. At club level, he has won all there is to be won. At international level, far from it.
One of the most decorated players in the game, Messi’s only international honour is a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics. Let’s hope he changes his mind and gives us one more World Cup. It could be the one.
Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)