Lionel Messi has come out of international retirement once before but it sounds like he may retire for good very soon.
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Messi, 30, will captain Argentina at the 2018 World Cup this summer after being persuaded to return to La Albiceleste following his knee-jerk retirement in the summer of 2016 after they lost the Copa America Centenario final to Chile on penalty kicks in New York City.
Speaking to Spanish outlet Sport, Messi was asked if he has plans to retire from the Argentine national team anytime soon.
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Here was his answer on the eve of the World Cup in Russia.
“I don’t know. It will depend how we do, how it ends,” Messi said. “The fact we’ve lost three finals now has led to some complicated moments with the Argentine press due to the differences in seeing what it means to reach a final. It is not easy and [reaching three finals] has to be appreciated. It’s true that winning them is important, but getting there is not easy.”
So, in a nutshell, unless Argentina win the World Cup or bow out heroically after dominating the tournament, he’s out.
The burden on Messi to deliver a major trophy for Argentina is intense and losing three consecutive major finals (2014 World Cup to Germany in extra time, then the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals to Chile on penalty kicks) hit him hard.
Argentina’s record goalscorer (64 goals in 124 appearances) will probably overtake Diego Maradona in terms of fame when his career is over, but that’s largely due to his success at club level with Barcelona after winning five Ballon d’Or trophies and becoming both the leading scorer for Barca and in La Liga’s history. Maradona delivered a World Cup success for Argentina in 1986 and single-handedly dragged the team through in Mexico. Messi will have plenty of help going forward in this tournament, but it’s true that plenty of problems elsewhere on the pitch persist for the South American giants.
There’s no doubt that Messi and his teammates such as Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Angel di Maria greatly value playing for their national team and at times it seems like they’re almost trying too hard to succeed.
Jorge Sampaoli has Argentina playing a high-pressing style but with defensive deficiencies obvious, once again, Messi’s knows he may never win the major trophy he craves on the international stage.
Maybe that’s what his comments are all about as he aims to put a rocket close to the posterior of his teammates in order to get them all pulling in the same direction and peak at the World Cup this summer.
Argentina have been placed in Group D alongside Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria and they should make it safely out of the group stage.