Lionel Messi may already be one of the most decorated players of all-time, and is rightly considered one of the greatest the game has ever seen, but he now faces a critical decision, and one that could prove to define his legacy. He needs to decide whether to call time upon his international career.
The suggestion that the 28-year-old should stop playing for Argentina comes in the wake of the country losing their second international final in consecutive years, with Saturday’s Copa America defeat to Chile coming nearly 11 months after Germany denied them winning their third World Cup.
While Messi won the Best Player Award for his efforts in last year’s competition in Brazil, and reportedly turned down the same award following their shootout loss to Chile (via World Soccer), he has been criticised for his failure to deliver the same impact he has every week at the Nou Camp. World Soccer report that the editor of Argentine site Ole has called for the attacker to be stripped of the captaincy.
However, the individual accolades, as well as his efforts for the Catalan side – where they have just won the treble – would suggest that the problem is not with Lionel Messi, but rather the way he plays alongside his countrymen. Whether his inability to bring his club form to international level is entirely down to him is unclear, however Argentina arguably boast one of the most star-studded squads – much more marquee than the one Cristiano Ronaldo has to work with for Portugal, and yet they have failed to add an international honour since 1993, when they last won the Copa America.
While Messi remains part of the side, they will go into every tournament as one of the favourites. However, should they continue to fail to clear that last hurdle, his aura becomes weaker. And having achieved everything with Barcelona, there is only so many more La Liga titles he can win before people start to question whether he is actually the greatest. Winning a World Cup like Diego Maradona did – by carrying the nation’s hopes almost solely on his back in both 1978 and 1986 – is the only thing that will secure his legendary status.
One thing that is for certain is that while the likes of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano are two of the greatest players to have ever played the game, they are not remembered in quite the same bracket as Pele and Maradona, who are widely seen as the two contenders to definitively be considered the best. The difference between the two pairs is that the latter two have been able to lift the holy grail – the World Cup.
He could retire now, and be spared the questions when the side fall in every major tournament before the decision is finally taken not to select him. Or he can battle on to Russia 2018, when he may have one final chance to add his name into the debate alongside his two fellow South Americans. Without that trophy, his talent will be somewhat discarded by those who never got to see him play.