Lionel Messi told reporters after Argentina’s second Copa America final loss to Chile in as many years — and fourth final loss in nine years — that the national team is now over for him. He’s done. Retired from international football, just like that.
Or is he?
The possible reasons for Messi’s stunning announcement, and the question whether he’ll really go through with it have since been dissected and debated ad nauseam. There’s a large faction out there that believes Messi and even supports his decision. There are many more who think that by the 2018 World Cup, he’ll be back wearing the Albiceleste kit, making another run for that elusive first international title he needs to cement his legacy.
If he does, he wouldn’t be Argentina’s first No. 10 to come back after heartbreak.
None other than Diego Maradona also "retired" from the national team shortly after a gut-wrenching final defeat. Maradona indicated as much while speaking to reporters after Argentina’s 1990 World Cup final loss to Germany:
At the 15-second mark, a reporter asks if he will ever play again in the Argentine shirt. "This was the last time," Maradona answers. After being asked once more, he says: "No, I don’t believe I will."
Maradona was 30 years old at the time, just one year older than Messi is now. Of course, by then Maradona had already captained his country to the World Cup four years earlier. His legacy fulfilled, nobody would have blamed Maradona had he called it quits for good.
But Maradona did return to the team in 1993 – after sitting out a 15-month suspension for his cocaine addiction, it should be noted — featuring in Argentina’s World Cup ’94 qualifying playoff games against Australia and two games in the finals, before notoriously getting expelled from the tournament after failing a drug test.
Could Messi follow suit (minus the cocaine)?
For the sake of The Beautiful Game, let’s hope history repeats itself.