Better late than never. We did not voice an opinion on Leo Messi apart from some on-point comments on social media, but the little genius deserves a piece from totalBarça following Argentina’s umpteenth big tournament failure. Leo has put an end to his time with the Albiceleste and the fallout stemming from his decision is still sending shockwaves across the footballing world, even with Wales and Iceland garnering heaps of attention for their indelible displays in Europe.
We will start with the certainties. Lionel Messi has quit the Argentina National Team. Forever and ever. La Pulga may have announced his decision in a mixed zone interview, but it never looked like a rash one. After all, Leo is not the type to say things of such weight in public and then reverse his stance. It is a definite, irreversible goodbye to 11 years of suffering with the blue and white stripes of Argentina, that yielded nothing, but 4 runners’ up medals. One could ask though, ‘How is it even possible for somebody who is being regarded the best of all time to be suffering with his national side?’
The truth is, Messi never really enjoyed life with the Albiceleste. Many respected outlets, like ESPN or DW, spoke of a case on the weight of the nation breaking Messi. It would have been alright if he only had to bear the weight of his own nation on his shoulders. Apart from the dreams and hopes of a football-crazy country that had already gone 12 years without a trophy at the time of his senior debut, Leo had to bear even more. The little genius from Rozario, quite unfairly, had to keep giving his best for the national team amidst fierce criticism from home. Diego Maradona, the man who named Lionel Messi his successor, has scathed Leo with his words on countless occasions. The rest of the nation, has all too often accused the country’s all time leading scorer for not being a true centre forward and lacking a sense of sacrifice for the national team. They called him a traitor, they accused of playing well just for Barcelona, and yet Leo kept trying. He kept trying, and was hurt time and time again. He is human though, like the rest of us, and could not stand it anymore.
I’d be willing to be those who accuse Messi of not giving his best for Argentina always fail to remember that early in his career, the little man from Rosario was given a choice. When Barcelona registered him with the Spanish federation as a teenager, the club also helped Messi acquire a Spanish passport. After a long and seemingly endless process, Messi was granted a passport and Spanish citizenship, something which made him eligible to compete with Spain. Officials from the Spanish federation quickly offered the player a place in the country’s junior national teams. Eager to play with his home nation, Messi turned the Spaniards down.
Imagine how different the footballing world could have been had Messi taken up the chance to play for La Roja. Imagine him on the same side as David Villa, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Xabi Alonso, in a Spain shirt, under the guidance of Vicente Del Bosque. Leo chose to go down the difficult path. He carried Argentina on his shoulders during the 2014 World Cup, during last year’s Copa America, this summer in the States and on many other occasions. Were it not for him, Argentina wouldn’t have even thought about winning the World Cup in Brazil, or the Copa America. Looking at the squad called-up by Tata Martino this summer, it is hard to think how people like Marcos Rojo, Gabriel Mercado or Sergio Romero could find a place in the German, French or Spanish squads for the Euros. The truth is that Leo carried a decent but in no way brilliant team close to being the best in the world. Getting so close and failing time and time again hurts.
Leo knows how much he wanted to guide Argentina to a major trophy. He knows how much effort he put in to make that dream a reality. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Lionel Messi is still only 29 though. He still has 3 or 4 years at the highest level, and Barcelona, the club has been serving with admirable loyalty, need him as much as he needs them.
At Barcelona, Lionel Messi is loved by everyone. In Catalonia, he is worshipped like a God. People understand that even he can have bad days. In Barcelona, culés never aim their fire straight at Messi. There have been times when he did not deliver as some may expect. Culés know that the future does hold more of those times for them. Yet they also know that they can be thankful for the magic Leo has offered them throughout the years.
Lionel Messi was never meant to find love playing with Argentina. By contrast, that love is fundamental in bonding him to Fútbol Club Barcelona. Leo, we will always be with you.