Lionel Messi’s bleached blonde hairdo wasn’t the only crisis the star soccer player went through this summer. If you’ll recall, the 29-year-old shocked the world by announcing his retirement from the Argentine national squad right after losing to Chile for the second year in a row in the Copa America final.
Messi’s departure from the team didn’t last very long. Just more than a month later, the Barcelona striker was back with the team, leading most Argentina fans to breathe a sigh of relief.
Except for Messi’s former coach and outspoken soccer legend Diego Maradona, who instead of rejoicing, suggested Messi’s short-lived retirement was just a savvy PR move.
“Maybe his retirement was staged to make us forget about the three final losses,” Maradona said (via Argentina’s TyC Sports), referring to the 2016 and 2015 Copa America finals and the 2014 World Cup final that Argentina lost to Germany.
If Messi knew he’d soon be back when he announced his retirement on June 26, the tactic certainly worked. Instead of facing a proverbial firing squad of questions about his latest failure to bring a title to Argentina, the father of two instead was met with sympathy. Fans lamented the loss of Messi much more than the team’s loss to Chile.
Messi, of course, has maintained his decision to temporarily retire was based on unbridled emotion stemming from the loss.
“A lot of things ran through my head on the day of the [Copa America] final. And I seriously considered leaving the team,” the player said in a statement announcing his comeback on Aug. 12.
That is probably the most pleasant story line to accept for those who want to believe the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s repeated statements that team titles are more important than individual accolades.
“Outside of my family, nothing would make me happier than to win my first World Cup with Argentina in 2018,” Messi told Sports Illustrated in May.
Messi, who was seemingly willing to give up his spot on the Albiceleste, will now get the chance to make Argentina’s World Cup dreams come true. His decision to come out of retirement earlier this month came the same day South American soccer’s governing body requires teams to provide the official rosters for September’s World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay and Venezuela. And yes, Messi, the team’s all-time leading scorer, made the cut.
“There are many things that need to be fixed in Argentine football. But I prefer to help from inside rather than stand on the outside and criticize,” Messi said in his Aug. 12 statement announcing he would re-join the team. “I want to thank all the fans who wanted me to keep playing for Argentina. I hope we can give them joy very soon.”