Before last weekend, the legend Diego Maradona made a foreboding pronouncement ahead of Argentina’s clash with Chile in the Final of the Copa América Centenario. “Of course I think we’ll win,” he said. “But if you don’t win, don’t come back.”
It seems that perhaps the greatest player of this generation— of his or any country— took those words a bit too close to heart.
Following Argentina’s heartbreaking loss on penalties in the Final last night, Lionel Messi announced his career in international football was over.
After failing to find the net in 120 minutes of open play, Messi put his team on the wrong foot in the first frame of the penalty shootout by sending his shot well over the crossbar. Chile went on to win the shootout 4-2, lifting the Copa América trophy for the second consecutive time.
Messi was clearly distraught from the loss as cameras showed him fighting to choke back tears while waiting to receive his runners-up medal. Afterward, he spoke to reporters and said his time with the Argentina national team was over.
“My thinking right now and thinking about it in the dressing room, I’m done playing with the national team. I tried my hardest, it’s been four finals but I was not able to win. I tried everything possible. It’s hurts me more than anyone but it is evident that this is not for me.”
While Messi has yet to lead Argentina to trophy lifting ceremony, his remarkable skill as a centerpiece of a fairly strong squad (at least on paper) always made it seem like winning big on the international stage was always more of a When rather than an If. And that Messi’s lack of a World Cup or Copa América winner’s medal was likely a result of bad luck more than anything else. His international career has been marked with promise and possibility ever since Argentina won the gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Possibility, it seems, that’s been closed off prematurely. He’ll turn 31 during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which is still plenty young enough. Barring a change of mind, 2018 will just have to get along without him.
Messi may not be the only one from Argentina’s golden generation hanging up their boots. ESPN is reporting that Javier Mascherano, Sergio Agüero, and Lucas Biglia are set to retire as well, while others such as Gonzalo Higuaín and Ángel Di María are seriously considering following suit.
All this is happening as the Argentine Football Association has been taken over by an emergency FIFA task force following several corruption and mismanagement scandals in recent years. Argentina are currently ranked #1 in FIFA’s world rankings, yet between the loss in the Copa, Messi (and others) retiring, and the AFA’s scandals, this could be the beginning of a period of dark decline for La Albiceleste.
And unless Messi changes his mind, world football will be a much poorer place.