In terms of sheer pleasure, there is no greater sight in global football than watching Messi literally mesmerize five, or more, opponents who try to bring him down. There is no finer artist in boots than him.
If Lionel Messi means it, and he has played his last game for his country, then the loss is Argentina’s, and the world’s.
We must hope that it was Latin emotion talking when, on Sunday night in New Jersey, USA, he told the Argentine network TyC Sports: “It’s been four finals, its not meant for me. I tried. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn’t get it, so I think its over.”
Let those of us who regard this little man as the most gifted of all the millions around the world who play his game hope that the key word in that statement was “think”. And that, in the cold light of day, he will think again.
Yes, by the cruelest measure of worth, Messi’s failure to win a major title with Argentina prevents him from being ranked alongside Diego Maradona (and even Alfredo Di Stefano) as the greatest Argentine of them all.
But I won’t join those, including Maradona, who put the boot into Messi when he is down.
In terms of sheer pleasure, there is no greater sight in global football than watching Messi literally mesmerize five, or more, opponents who try to bring him down. There is no finer artist in boots than him, not even for all his claims and all his goals Cristiano Ronaldo.
Both are modern greats, in their different ways. But whereas Ronaldo is all about him, and all about goals of which there have been two wonderful ones at the current Euro 2016, Messi contributes so much more for team mates.
With Barcelona, he has dropped back, lowered his 50-goals per season ratio in order to be the fulcrum, the playmaker, the provider of goals for Neymar and Luis Suarez.
With Argentina, even with prolific strikers such as Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero, there is always the expectation that if Messi doesn’t do it, nobody else can.
That onus was carelessly, one might suspect spitefully, ranked up by Maradona on the eve of the Copa America Centenary final against Chile. If the team did not this time win the cup, Maradona broadcast, they should not come home to Argentina.
The dig is that Messi is no patriot. That he doesn’t care as much as Maradona cared for Argentina at the 1986 World Cup.
Let’s agree that Maradona was a winner by fair means and foul in ’86—and that his Hand of God goal to cheat England was ameliorated by truly wondrous dribble and shot when he beat half the England team on his own.
We must not let Maradona, now in middle age and living off fame, be the judge. Maradona, a failed coach, also said that Messi lacks personality, and that he is not “man” enough, by which he means personality.
If character defines the star man, has Maradona forgotten his descent into drug dependency at Napoli, or the efforts that the then Argentine president Carlos Saul Menem led to save him when those drugs and obesity caused heart failure?
Messi, so far as we know, is clean. But he is hounded by losing a tax evasion trial in Spain, and was wounded before this Copa when two Hondurans battered him in a warm-up match—one pushing him onto the boots of another.
He arrived in the States shaken by back injury. He scored five times, but he missed in the lottery of the penalty shoot out. His record, IF he is truly finished for Argentina, is 55 goals from 113 games. Maradona’s was 34 goals from 91 games.
Maradona was part of a TEAM that won the World Cup. Messi, so far, only won Olympic gold for Argentina, though has won everything there is to win over 13 years with Barça.
There is a dagger in his heart. When that heals, Argentina’s FA should go down on bended knees to ask him to reconsider.