Argentine football star Lionel Messi decided to quit international football after his country lost the second successive final in Copa America to the same Chile and in the same penalty shootout. In 2015, Argentina lost 1-4 while in 2016, the scoreline read 2-4.
Overall, this is the third final that Messi's Argentina failed to win in as many years (they lost to Germany in the final of the 2014 Fifa World Cup).
Nowadays, Argentina's defeats at big events are being seen more as Messi's personal tragedy and it is not the right way of looking at things. Have we equated Argentina with defeats and personal losses since Diego's team had lost that tainted final in 1990---for eternity?
The sudden exit of Messi from the international stage could be a boon for the Argentine team, which is otherwise seen more as a one-man army since the great Maradona left the world mesmerised in 1986. Be it Batistuta, Ortega or Messi---the Albicelestes have revolved around a pair of legs considered far superior from the other 10. But football being a team game where utility players have taken over from superstar-centric teams, it is almost impossible to produce the magic of the yesteryears throughout.
Messi still did well throughout the tournaments but stumbled in each of the last three finals. Here comes a question over his bid to the Greatest Player on Earth. In all the three finals that Argentina have lost in three years, the game reached a stalemate and it could only need the feet of the god-sent talent to break it by either a self-goal or a stunning pass to a fellow striker.
In the 1986 final, after the never-say-die West Germans drew level at 2-2, it was a Maradona pass that saw Claudio Cannigia sealing the deal. Could Messi create such a magic when it mattered the most?
In the 2014 final, he himself came the closest to give Argentina their third title but couldn't net the ball.
In 2016, he did even worse by missing out on his turn in a panelty shootout, something that had never happened before. The man, who scores hat-tricks with ease at major tournaments and his supporters keep on inflating the balloon of his stature as the greatest player, finds football an alien game in the finals. Surprising? Or is the pressure too high for him to absorb?
There could also be another angle to the story. Does the generation of the Messis find national football suitable as the likes of Peles and Maradonas did? In this era of cut-throat club competition, does the passion for nationalist sentiments really matter for these players? It is not just about the money but the frequent exposure and inter-mixing in club football which might dilute the edge of nationalism on the ground when countries lock horn with each other. In tennis, we have seen how a Davis Cup matters little for the professionals who keep the circuit absorbed with their skills.
Same in football?
Messi might have killed two birds with one stone by quitting international football. He ensured that the sympathy base for him will now be immortal for tragedies, after a point of time, become farce and secondly, he would not have to think about the pressure of nationalism anymore. The concentration on the club matches and the winning of trophies in that realm will go on adding to Messi's stature. The nationalism factor can be conveninetly eliminated for anyways, it is not proving to be profitable.
The same can be observed in cricket where a number of players quit Test match to extend their careers in more demanding but rewarding limited-over cricket. There is no loss in being a half-player but full professional.
International players are now more diplomats for that quality is required for a longer survival in the tough world of modern sport. Messi might just found the perfect opportunity in yesterday's loss to chart out the future course of his career without offending anybody.