Nicolás Miremont –
Once again, on June 26, the world of football experienced déjà vu. It is becoming a more and more common occurrence, since so many teams are at the top of their game. This time, it was Argentina and Chile, face to face yet again, fighting for the Copa América title. Exactly a year ago, we saw the same two teams playing in the Copa América final, which resulted in a victory for Chile.
Argentina knew that this was a must-win for them. The team was expecting to bring a title home after the recent bitter results on the international stage. And this was it, the opportunity to win the title against their hated rivals, and to end the 23-year silverware drought. The match went all the way to the penalty shootouts, and it was Lionel Messi who stepped up to take the first penalty for Argentina…
We all know who Lionel Messi is. He is a wizard, some even claim he does not belong to this planet, that he is a gift from heaven. Messi is a person who puts a smile on the faces of those who reside in the saddest and most difficult places on the planet.
The last ten years have been revolutionised by his innovation, his pace, and his magic. Somehow, even his competitors have given him inspiration that helped him to change football forever. Yet, there is still something that Messi has not been able achieve, and that is winning a major trophy with the National Team. This is the third final that Argentina have lost in a row: the World Cup 2014, Copa América 2015 and Copa América 2016.
Messi is a Human Being After All
After he failed the first penalty in the Final against Chile, the whole nation couldn’t believe their eyes. Messi had just failed to score his penalty, which was sure to decide the game, even with four penalties left to take.
Since making his debut for the national team almost twelve years ago, the pressure on Messi has always been heavy. The “Pulga” (the flea) was said to be the next Diego Maradona, the person who would put Argentine football at the top again. This was Messi’s preassigned task, a task that he had not asked for. Although he did not succeed (and I must admit that I was always one of the first to complain about his “lack of devotion”), he tried. We must accept that without Messi we would not have taken part in all these finals.
Was it fair to put the desperation and the need for joy of an entire nation on one sportsman’s shoulders? Isn’t football a team-based game? The last time I counted, Messi was playing alongside ten other field players. Or maybe he wasn’t. Perhaps that was what happened—that is what has been causing all this failure.
While Diego Maradona won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where the whole world saw him do things to defenders which are still hard to forget,, Messi was not able to replicate this achievement. Was it because he played poorly? No. In fact, Messi was the person who got us out of trouble against Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria and Switzerland. He did everything right, but his teammates were not good enough to help him when it came to bringing a Cup home to Argentina.
The difference between Maradona’s success and Messi’s living hell is that the former had Burruchaga and Valdano, who delivered when they were asked to. On the other hand, Higuaín, Palacio, Agüero and Di María have caused nothing but problems and wasted opportunities in each of the three finals, by missing clear chances, not playing to their full potential and apparently by succumbing to fear and suffering injuries. It was a struggle for Argentina to find composure during the finals due to the lack of commitment of certain players. Reserved places should stop, since it tends to generate a comfort zone for some players.
Maradona or Messi – The Eternal Debate
Maradona or Messi is certainly, a topic that guarantees a heated discussion that could last for years. Not everyone can be a legend like Maradona. Not because they don’t deserve it or because they are not good enough. Sometimes, people are not meant to be saviours—or legends either.
Diego Maradona was the symbol of an entire generation. The man managed to unite a country, which had been divided for several decades, and got Argentina on the map when the global politics were not exactly in our favour.
We cannot compare Messi to Maradona simply because it has been twenty years since Maradona has played at his best, and things were quite different back then. It seems difficult, though, to expect anything less from a player who has won five Ballon d’Or titles, as the world’s best player. Still, comparing two different eras is useless. Journalists and older football fans, whose standard of quality is the 1986 champions’ style of play, often make this comparison. Football and the world, however, have changed.
Be Careful What You Ask for, Messi Might Leave One Day
Right after the match, Messi gave an improvised press conference while heading for the bus and, still trying to hold his tears back, he said: “Am I the problem? Then I will solve it right now: I’m leaving. It’s over for me. The national team is over for me.”
The immediate response came from every sector of society—from children, adults, famous people, and even people who don’t watch football but just enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of their relatives when that guy Messi kicks a ball around.
The campaign was summed up by the hashtag #NoTeVayasLio (Lio don’t go!). It became a worldwide trending topic in a matter of minutes, and has branched into different movements over the course of the last two weeks. There was even an attempt to start a rally in Buenos Aires, but it was spoiled by the pouring rain, as if the situation hadn’t been sad enough.
What Comes now for Argentina?
Is Messi’s international retirement definitive? I think not. His decision was (at least we are hoping it was) a bit hasty, given the current situation of the AFA and Argentine football, and his general level of discomfort.
Rumours about a possible “reconstruction” of the national team before the World Cup in Russia are still going around, although one thing is for sure: Messi will be included in that squad if he chooses to come out of retirement. Lionel’s relatives and part of his medical team have expressed their opinions based on what he told them. Everything is pointing towards a probable break, which basically means that Messi will miss Argentina’s next two games, and then he will decide.
Once the whole situation has cooled down, in all probability, those millions of people who tried to convince Messi to take the captain’s armband and then criticized him for Argentina’s failures, will be the first who want him back.
After some time, and only then, the person who gave us countless shows and filled our chests with pride, and whom we focused on criticising might give us another chance. The World Cup gets closer and closer with every passing day, and the best player in the world might come in handy. I’m sure Messi will eventually get a rematch, he deserves it. He just hasn’t been lucky yet.
Football teaches us lots of lessons. This year we learned that we ought to appreciate what we have, because one day it might not be there anymore. That is the way Argentina has behaved; it has been a country that is constantly demanding, but never willing to help you through the hard times. Now, all of a sudden, everyone is asking “the boy who didn’t sing the anthem”, “the boy who didn’t feel the colours”, “the boy who would rather play for Spain”, “the failure”, “the fraud”, “the destroyer of dreams” to come back. This is because we have suddenly realised that without him, there will not be any more dreams to play for.
Nicolás Miremont is a born and raised Boca Juniors fan, but his heart has a special place for Manchester United, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Dynamo Kiev. Miremont loves to support the underdogs. Miremont enjoys watching smaller competitions especially those from Eastern Europe, but also his native Argentina. Follow him on Twitter @Miremont_Nico