Soccer lovers around the world, including those who don’t support Argentina, were distraught and shocked two weeks ago when Argentine superstar Lionel Messi made the surprise announcement of retiring from international football after his national side lost to Chile in the finals of Copa America. But now, thanks to one man, they may find some hope and a reason to cheer.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri told CNBC on Thursday that he was confident he could convince the mercurial forward, who also plays for Spanish club Barcelona FC, to continue playing with the national team.
“I talked to him on the phone; I’m sure he will come back. He’s the best in the world," Macri, a soccer fan himself, said. He also predicted that Messi’s return to the national side would lead to winning a World Cup.
It is the lack of winning that trophy, or any other big international tournament, that weighed heavy on Messi when he announced his retirement. During his time in the Argentine team, it has reached the finals in four big international tournaments — Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the World Cup in 2014 — and lost all of them.
The recent loss to Chile was perhaps particularly hard-hitting. The third straight loss in as many years was made worse by the fact that Messi missed a crucial goal during the penalty shootout that decided the match after it ended 0-0 during regular and extended play time.
After losing to Chile last month, Messi, who has been declared world player of the year five times, said: “The national team is over for me. That’s four finals [lost], it’s not for me. It’s a made decision, I think.”
His surprise announcement led to calls from around the world, including from fans, peers and rivals, asking him to reconsider his decision. From within his native Argentina, the most prominent voices were those of football legend Diego Maradona and President Macri. Buenos Aires also unveiled a statue of him a day after his announcement.
The Argentine forward is in a legal soup right now, after being fined about $2.2 million and being handed a suspended 21-month sentence in Spain for tax fraud. Messi is appealing the Spanish court’s decision.
The only time Messi won an international tournament in Argentine colors was the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But clearly, it wasn’t close to being enough of a consolation.