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Was Messi too spoilt for success?

Was Messi too spoilt for success?

It’s funny how success can spoil you! You give up on your ideals and beliefs in search of more. Your hunger for success makes you chase easy profitability rather than invest & achieve in a faith that might need nurturing. You scrutinise to an extent that something you were convinced about and knew would bear fruit suddenly seems a lost cause. You refuse to find in yourself the impulse that once had you going and a burst of never ending negativity leads you to the drastic decision of letting it go, for a greater good. Yes, we’re still talking sports all of this does prevail in sport!

Lionel Messi – perhaps the greatest footballer of all time or at least his generation – announced his international retirement in the most unexpected of circumstances. For the second time in 2 years, Argentina were up against Chile in the Copa America final and yet again a shoot-out would be needed to separate the sides. Messi hit his penalty high, Argentina succumbed and it turned to be another instance of so near yet so far for ‘La Albiceleste’. Messi cut an understandably sorry figure post the final and all our hearts bled with his. The world stood by its hero to let him know that they would wait for him to redeem himself. Who knew that the hero had betrayal on his mind!

“In the dressing room I thought that this is the end for me with the national team, it’s not for me,” he said. “I tried so hard to be champion with Argentina. But it didn’t happen. I couldn’t do it.” These were the words of Lionel Messi, who had turned 29 just two days before the final and was fairly young to retire! The words would have sunk in a lot better had it been after a disappointing 2018 World Cup or another shoot-out loss in 2019 Copa final. These words came from a man who was known to never give up, who fought through tackles on the pitch and adversities off it to achieve perhaps what god had not destined him to be.

Messi was born for the game. He was as fluent as a 5-year-old as he is at 29 today. That he was destined for greatness was evident, until little Leo was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency. With the expenses of Leo’s treatment gradually stretching beyond their means, the Messi family were offered aid that would changes their lives. FC Barcelona always had an acute eye for talent and they wouldn’t let the most special one succumb, at least without a fight.  Aged 13, Lionel Messi & his family moved to Barcelona, where the club had offered to pay for his treatments and train him at the famous ‘La Masia’ academy.

Little Leo became a boy wonder as he rose through the La Masia ranks. The world waited eagerly for this kid, who they had heard so much about, to make his senior debut. At 17 years, 3 months and 22 days, Messi became the then youngest player to play for Barcelona in an official tournament. After his initial years alongside Ronaldinho & under coach Frank Rijkaard, Messi excelled and started creating his own legacy under Pep Guardiola. He was perhaps the most influential player as Barcelona started a period of world domination. Barcelona & Messi started crushing team & personal records one game at a time! As of the end of the 2015-16 season, Messi has won 28 competitive titles with Barcelona – 8 La Liga, 4 Copa del Rey, 5 Spanish Super Cup, 4 UEFA Champions League, 3 UEFA Super Cup & 3 Club World Cup.

Titles and success have never been a problem for Messi at Barcelona. Playing in a team where those on the bench would easily be first choice players at any other European club also takes a lot of pressure off Messi. He knows that there are others who’ll step-up when he’s having an off-day, that millions of hopes don’t just rest on him, that he will not shoulder the blame alone if there is failure, that he will not be singled out when the team hits a rough patch. This is the insurance Messi doesn’t get with the Argentina National team. Yes, there are other stars in the team, but none has the bearing Messi has had over Argentines. His success at club level gave the country belief of success at international level that they had last tasted at the 1993 Copa America.

Messi’s Argentina debut came under Jose Pekerman in August 2005 when he came on as a 63rd minute substitute in a friendly against Hungary. His debut lasted just two minute as Messi was sent off because of a very contentious decision by the referee. He started making regular appearances for the national side and found himself in the squad for the 2006 World Cup. He became Argentina’s youngest player at the 2006 World Cup & the 6th youngest player to score at the World Cup when he made his World Cup debut against Serbia and Montenegro. Argentina were knocked out of the tournament by Germany at the quarter-final stage in a game Messi spent on the bench. His first signs of success with Argentina were at the 2007 Copa America where they reached the final only to lose to Brazil. The Olympics of 2008 followed and Messi played a pivotal in taking Argentina to Gold. Along with Juan roman Riquelme, Messi was singled out by FIFA as the stand-out player of the tournament.

Another period of decline followed for Argentina as they failed to impress during the 2010 World Cup & the 2011 Copa America. Messi hit a goal drought during this phase & probably for the first time in his career drew criticism. Amidst all of this, he was handed the captaincy of the national team as then coach Alejandro Sabella went about restructuring the side to suit Messi’s style of play. Argentina looked a lot more menacing as they reached the 2014 World Cup final & the 2015 Copa America final, but failed to find any silverware.

Over the course of his international career, which lasted exactly 10 years, 10 months & 10 days (17 Aug 2015 to 27 Jun 2016) Messi turned out for Argentina in 113 matches, scoring 55 goals & assisting another 36 for his team. His 4 hat-tricks for Argentina are the highest by any player for the Albiceleste and his 55 goals make him their all-time top-scorer.

His Argentina career hasn’t been bad, but it just pales when compared to his Barca career. This time he’d had enough of the jibes people took at him for it. He came back with a jibe of his own – retirement! He dropped the bomb right after the 2016 Copa America final.

Perhaps he knew that retirement was the easiest way to go and this time he wanted it easy. He was content enjoying his Barcelona success and no longer felt a need to win for Argentina. He was too spoilt for success!

While many feel that Messi will come out of retirement, there are a few who believe that Argentina might have seen the last of him. Messi’s legend will live on, but Argentina will be divided in the way they remember this legend. If only Leo had chosen to fight on…

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