Lionel Messi: Don’t cry for him Argentina

A penalty blazed into the New Jersey night, soul-searching in an Argentinian dressing room and collective shock in the football world – Monday mornings have never been this dramatic. After yet another heartbreak with his national side, a fourth loss in a major final (three in the last three years), Lionel Messi announced that he was calling time on his international career. “I tried so hard to be [a] champion with Argentina. But it didn’t happen. I couldn’t do it. I think it’s best for everyone, for me and for many people who want it. The choice for me is over, it is a decision. I tried many times [to be a champion] but did not,” he said after the Albiceleste lost on penalties (2-4) to Chile in the Copa America. It didn’t help that the night he was to end his country’s 23-year trophy-less run will now be remembered as the moment Messi missed. It wasn’t the decisive penalty (Claudio Bravo would save from Lucas Biglia later in the shootout), but it seemed destined for the great man to step up and seal his place alongside idol Diego Maradona – Sergio Romero had just guessed right to deny Arturo Vidal.
And this wasn’t the 2014 World Cup run, where even die-hard fans would admit that the Golden Ball was a little generous, or the 2015 Copa final, where the Chilean “high-press” stifled his side and he continually ran into a Gary Medel-sized roadblock. He had been in irrepressible form this tournament as Argentina swept all before them. Apart from the five goals and the four assists, he went past Gabriel Batistuta’s goal-scoring record; more importantly, he looked at his best: there were the darting runs that left defenders in his wake, the signature feints that precede them, the telling wriggling out of tight spaces and THAT free-kick against the USA in the semis. There could have been none of the perennial complaints against him: that he doesn’t turn up for Argentina in the big tournaments and that he doesn’t give his all for the Albiceleste. But yet, it wasn’t enough; inexplicably, he once again appeared to be carrying a side loaded with talent.
While in Barcelona he is the conductor in a seamless orchestra, with the Albiceleste (barring this tournament), ‘La Pulga’ increasingly appeared as an overworked marshal in a disjointed ensemble – and one who appeared to be trying too hard.
So you felt for him as he made that dreaded stuttered walk after that penalty miss. There had been fears of this and a sense of deja vu as, early on, Gonzalo Higuain missed a sitter, in yet another final, before the game descended into what was increasingly just a glorified brawl on grass.
And you felt for him when he announced his decision to quit. While failure to garner major trophies may have sparked an emotional decision, there is no doubt that other factors have influenced it. The incredible pressure on the captain, without the accompanying adulation, the endless comparisons to his idol and to the club Messi (the five-time FIFA Player of the Year has won four Champions League titles and eight La Liga crowns with Barcelona as opposed to none with the senior Argentinian side). Th

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