Lionel Messi said

Lionel Messi said if not now then never

Lionel Messi wore a wistful smile as he answered a reporter’s question after Argentina’s loss to Chile in the 2016 Copa America final.

“That’s it for me, I’m done with the national team,” Lionel Messi said. “As I said before, we’ve lost four finals and that’s just not for me.

Messi will take retirement 

The anxiety was evident on Messi’s face in the interview where he announced his retirement from the national team immediately after the loss.

He was noncommittal when asked if his decision was final, but pointedly added how it had to be him to miss the decisive first penalty in the shootout.

For a man gifted with a left foot that God created on Sunday, someone revered by millions around the world, it is fitting that Messi strongly believes in the power of destiny.

It’s something he often brings up when talking about Argentina. In a viral locker room clip of his speech ahead of the 2021 Copa America final, he talked about how there is no such thing as a coincidence that the tournament has moved from Argentina to Brazil.

Qatar 2022 will almost certainly be his final venture on the international stage. It’s now or never for Messi, but in a sense, each of the last three World Cups has been like that.

In 2010, with Diego Maradona as manager, the king and heir felt written in the stars to restore Argentina to glory for the first time since 1986. However, reality and Germany failed the romance in South Africa.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil coincided perfectly with the pinnacle of Messi’s career as he entered the tournament after winning the Ballon d’Or four times in a row in the previous six years.

The supporting cast

The supporting cast of Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano, and Kun Aguero were arguably at their peak – the ingredients for success could not have been riper. Taking part in the final, where they were eventually beaten by Germany, belied a mediocre show that saw them score just two goals after the group stages.

“It’s now or never for us, there’s nothing else.” We have to see this as our last World Cup and look at it as such and take advantage of the opportunity,” Messi said.

It’s a quote that would apply to Argentina today but was actually said ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

They arrived as one of the oldest teams in the tournament, having secured qualification through the teeth. Argentina’s campaign ran on fumes from the start and inevitably collapsed in the round of 16 against France.

Qatar is now or never for Messi’s World Cup,

It’s an addendum to a movie that should have ended in Russia.

It’s hard to fathom Messi’s performances at the World Cup. While there have been moments of brilliance – an injury-time winner against Iran in Brazil, an assist for Di Maria against Switzerland in the Round of 16, a touch and a goal against Nigeria in 2018 – he is yet to score a goal in 2018. the knockout phase of the tournament.

In Argentina, he rarely recovered the levels he regularly achieved for his clubs. Close your eyes and think of Messi and the first image that pops up is of him at the Blaugrana in Barcelona, ​​arms raised as the Camp Nou rocks to his music.

Argentina has always been the second fiddle to Messi’s iconography.

The searing images of Messi in blue and white are mostly colored by pain – the desolation on his face as he posed for the Ballon d’Or in 2014, the uncontrollable tears at the Metlife Arena after the 2016 Copa America loss, the way he ignored Olivier Giroud’s outstretched hand in the tunnel after losing to France in 2018.

While last year’s Copa America triumph was a rare piece of silverware, it felt seismic less because of the magnitude of the victory than because of the context behind it.

Please do not go

But it’s not just a lack of success on the pitch that has led to the strained nature of Messi’s relationship with Argentina’s fans.

Jonathan Wilson, author of Angels with Dirty Faces: The Footballing History of Argentina, believes the roots of the problem can be found in an editorial published in the cult Argentine sports magazine El Gráfico in 1928.

His teeth would be worn from eating yesterday’s bread, his shirt would be eaten by mice [and] he comes from a poor background,” Wilson told Al Jazeera.

“When Maradona arrives it’s like ‘he’s the one and generally speaking he’s done it with the bare minimum, whereas Messi, he’s a different physical type, he doesn’t fit the mold so I think that’s always going to be the case. resistance in Argentina.”

While Messi’s move to Spain at a young age also added to the backlash he faced in Argentina, Wilson believes the turning point in his relationship with fans came after he announced his retirement in 2016.

“He was obviously so devastated when he missed the penalty against Chile. His tears and retirement shocked people that ‘we need him back and there was an outpouring of ‘please don’t go,’” Wilson added.

Such was the intensity of this sentiment in Argentina that “No te vayas Lio” (Lio, don’t go) was written on the board of the subway in Buenos Aires.

He didn’t come back then, but now he does.

Perhaps football owes Messi the World Cup, as Steven Gerrard owes the Premier League, Gigi Buffon the Champions League, and Franck Ribery the Ballon d’Or.

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