Why Lionel Messi Should Not Have Returned for Argentina in 2016

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We are all faced with difficult decisions in our lives, and there are always various elements that influence those choices. Lionel Messi has established himself as one of the all-time greats of the game, but sometimes your first reaction is the correct one.

The Barcelona superstar and the Argentina national team are on the brink of World Cup elimination, with only one point gained from their first two matches against Iceland and Croatia. But it is not only the results that are staggering, as the squad’s play has been just as dreadful as the final scorelines.

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s line-up looks entirely out of sorts in Russia, unable to fully control the pace of the game and appearing short on ideas. For all his marvellous skill and breathtaking ability on the pitch, Messi is feeling the pressure of an entire nation to carry them past the group stage.

His struggles make one think back to the summer of 2016, and what seemed like the end of the line for his international career. Appearing in a third consecutive major tournament final without a win, Messi announced that he would be walking away from La Albiceleste after their loss to Chile at the Copa América Centenario in the United States.

It was true heartbreak for the 30-year-old, and Messi had given all of himself to the team’s success. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to bring a trophy.

It did not take long for him to change his mind, and after a week he was back in the squad ahead of World Cup qualifiers. While the decision was made hastily after a gut-wrenching defeat, Messi’s feelings may have simply been coming to the surface amidst genuine concern and an impending sense of doom.

A unique legacy

Argentina fans will forever adore Diego Maradona for his exploits at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, delivering the nation’s second title in the competition. However, his presence with the national team in recent years has only brought a dark cloud over Messi’s time in the spotlight.

From a coaching role in 2010 to a constant sight in the stands today, Maradona represents all that Messi has not achieved on the international stage. His club career at Barcelona has been truly legendary, but the World Cup has proven to be quite elusive for him.

That night in 2016 when he said he would no longer be a part of the Argentina squad, he may have ultimately seen what was on the horizon. Problems with the FA, a group of team-mates that could not work together properly and no clear plan on how to change their frustrating run of fortunes.

The tournament in Russia has offered plenty of evidence in the first two fixtures. A suspect back-line, baffling mistakes from goalkeeper Willy Caballero and the limited mobility of Javier Mascherano in the midfield are not aiding Messi in his quest for glory. Body language has been negative at best, and Argentina’s number ten is struggling to find the necessary answers that he needs.

I would never question a player who desires to represent his country, and that is something significant for any footballer. Lionel Messi does not require a World Cup title to cement his legacy, and his decision two summers ago may not have been as crazy as many believed it was at the time.

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