As the dust settles after the tumultuous 2016 Copa America fil that saw Chile retaining the crown, Lionel Messi has chosen the moment to call time on his intertiol career. At a mere 29 years, the magician is through with the Albiceleste’s blue and white stripes. He may yet do a rethink, but the bitterness of missing a pelty for the first time in a shootout, that too in the fourth fil he had propelled Argenti into, seems to have been the last straw for the world’s greatest footballer. Announcing his shock retirement a while after Chile prevailed 4-2 in the tiebreaker to lift the South American football crown, a disconsolate Messi said: “It’s not meant for me. For me the tiol team is over. I’ve done all I can, it hurts not to be a champion.” For all the 55 goals he scored in 113 appearances for Argenti to become his country’s highest goalscorer, Messi has only the 2008 Olympic gold to draw small comfort from. And football aficiodos will keep debating endlessly who is the greatest footballer to have turned out for Argenti. Diego Marado’s legacy remains secure. If he won the 1986 Mexico World Cup with feet of genius and ‘Hand of God’, lifting a modestly talented Argenti team by the scruff of its neck, Marado also achieved club football glory with Italy’s poli where tales of his exploits are legion. Other football lovers will hark back to an earlier golden age when Alfredo Di Stefano was ‘the best Argentinian player ever’, in the words of Pele himself. The Real Madrid great turned out for Argenti six times; he also represented Colombia and Spain. Nevertheless, Di Stefano in his prime was hailed as the most complete footballer by his peers, including Eusebio and Pele. When in full cry, Messi has been a worthy successor of Di Stefano and Marado, blessed with bewildering turn of speed, out-of-the-world footwork, pretertural passing ability, absolute balance plus control and sublime vision. He has said earlier that the day he stops enjoying football, he will leave it for good. Fans would hope that day will never come, for there is hardly anything more entertaining than a Leo Messi djinking run down the pitch, his wickedly dipping trademark freekick, and the shimmying and nutmegging that leaves worthy opponents flailing in his wake. Messi will now go back to club football, where he has achieved everything with Barcelo a footballer can dream to achieve. It is another matter that he would have gladly traded his five Ballon d’Or awards for glory in Argenti colours, but maybe, that was never to be.
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February 14, 2019
Shreeprakash Sharma (The writer is a Principal of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Dinthar Veng, Mamit, District-Mamit (Mizoram). He can be reached at...