Lionel Messi shockingly announced he will retire from international football after losing his third consecutive final in three years.
“Houston, we found an alien”
“Out of this world” – “The best ever” – “Modern Maradona”
Those were the sort of headlines and descriptions making the rounds in regards to Lionel Messi ahead of the Copa America Centenario final. And it was understandable as Messi was dominating his way to the only honor he hadn’t been able to attain so far: an international trophy with Argentina’s senior squad.
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It certainly looked like this would be it.
Messi was rampant for Argentina during Copa America, scoring a hat-trick in 20 minutes in his first game and becoming Argentina’s all-time leading scorer with an exquisite free kick against the United States during the semifinal round.
It was supposed to be a fairy-tale ending for a tournament that celebrated 100 years of existence. Still, it was not meant to be. Instead of glory, Messi was left in despair after missing a crucial penalty kick and seeing his team lose 4-2 in the shootout after 120 scoreless minutes of play against Chile.
And while Chile celebrated, the attention on the champions lasted only minutes as bigger news hit the soccer world: Messi announced his retirement from international play.
“I think that’s it. It’s over for me with the national team,” Messi told Argentinean TV after the game. “I think the decision has been made.”
It’s an understatement to say that it was a shocking development, especially considering the protagonist. Messi tends to be soft-spoken and unemotional, always careful with his words and his feelings.
Despite his disappointments with Argentina, which include losing four international finals (two World Cups and two Copa Americas), Messi has dominated the international soccer conversation for years. The prospect of seeing him retire from his national team at 29 is a particularly strange notion. Still, it’s understandable.
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The responsibility of winning or losing was always going to be on Messi’s shoulders. The media, the organizers of the tournament, the sponsors and the fan base are all to blame for putting him in a level above his teammates. Had Argentina won the final, all the attention and glory would be all for Messi and headlines with colorful words like “master,” “alien” or “supernatural” would grace newspapers around the world.
But Argentina lost. As a result, that responsibility also fell on Messi like a ton of bricks, with many arguing that on this occasion the pressure was bigger than the talent.
How will generations to come speak of Messi’s legacy after his announcement to retire from Argentina? The Barcelona star has destroyed all the individual records that have been put in his way and he has won everything there is to win at the club level. Still, a premature retirement from his national team will surely be a black mark on his otherwise illustrious career.
The saying goes that the bigger they are, the harder they fall and no one has been bigger than Messi in recent years, maybe ever. His exit from Argentina, if confirmed and final, will mark a hugely disappointing ending to his brilliant international career. As fans, let’s hope that decision was driven by sadness, frustration and nothing more.