I don’t believe that Lionel Messi is retiring from Argentina in international play, even though that’s exactly what he announced after his team lost to Chile in the Copa America final Sunday.
I’ve been around sports long enough to understand that almost any significant decision made after an emotional loss isn’t worth the tissue paper it was cried over. Messi’s announcement after Chile’s victory on penalty kicks rocked the soccer world. He is arguably the best player in the game, and for him to quit playing for Argentina, the best team in the world, is stunning, something like Michael Jordan retiring from the Bulls to play baseball.
Messi badly missed a penalty kick against Chile. That, together with three losses in World Cup finals, would drive anyone to consider stepping away from the game in the heat of the moment. Messi also is reportedly disillusioned with the officials who run the national team, and that might have played a role in his decision.
But there’s a reason most athletes refuse to bite on questions about retirement or a change of scenery after a difficult loss. They know that, with emotions scraped raw, they might say something they’ll have to take back later. We sportswriters don’t like a “no comment” because we want immediate answers. We cover winning and losing, and we want black-and-white answers.
Messi gave one Sunday night.
“My thinking right now and thinking about it in the locker room, I’m done playing with the national team,” he said.
Argentina fans have been critical of Messi for not bringing the country a championship. Compatriot Diego Maradono, one of the sport’s all-time greats, recently said that Messi “doesn’t have the personality to be a leader.’’ All of it might have snowballed on the Barcelona star.
The next World Cup will be played in Russia in 2018. The only thing more shocking than Messi’s retirement announcement would be his not representing Argentina again in two years.