Argentina captain Lionel Messi’s sudden announcement of departure from the national team after losing the Copa America final to Chile has led to fans, players and the country’s president asking him to reconsider his decision.
As the team arrived back Monday from the tournament in the United States, the Barcelona striker avoided commenting on the decision that took the soccer world by storm, despite a large number of emotional fans wearing Messi’s number 10 Argentina jersey and waiting in the rain for his arrival.
They waved flags, chanted “Messi is not leaving!” and carried banners, one of which read: “Messi: I love you more than I love my mom,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.
“The national team is over for me. That’s four finals [lost], it’s not for me,” Messi said after the final late Sunday. “It’s a made decision, I think.”
“I feel a great sadness right now that this is happening again,” he added. “I missed my penalty, which was super important. That’s it.”
The match, which went to penalties after 120 minutes of goalless play-time, could have ended Argentina’s 23-year wait for a major title. The five-time world player of the year does not have any titles with the national team to his name.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Twitter that “more than ever I feel great pride for our team. I hope we can continue to have the joy of seeing the world’s best player for many years.”
Macri ended his tweet with the hashtag #NoTeVayasLio (#Don'tLeaveLio), which became a global trending topic Monday.
“He has to continue!” Argentina’s soccer legend Diego Maradona told local La Nacion newspaper. “He must go on because he has it in him and will last for a long while, because he will reach Russia in conditions to become world champion,” said the man who led the country to a World Cup title in 1986.
Russia is set to host the 2018 soccer World Cup.
Argentina’s goalkeeper Sergio Romero said Messi spoke in the heat of the moment and he wants him to reconsider.
“It’s sad because once again a beautiful chance slipped away,” Romero said.
Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique said, “I imagine it was a very hard blow.”
“I know how competitive he is. He will recover from this,” he added, according to the AP.
Fans were devastated by the news of Messi’s abrupt resignation.
“I feel an enormous sadness, it tears my heart in two,” 29-year-old Juan Pablo Pinasco told the AP. “It was the cup that he (Messi) had to win, more than anything it is something that he deserves and I just don't want him to leave the national team.”
Within the team, Messi’s exit has sparked off a debate. Manchester City star Sergio Aguero warned other players could also quit the national side.
“We were all devastated in the dressing room, particularly Leo, I'd never seen him in such a state,” the Agence France Presse reported Maradona’s former son-in-law saying.
“Several players are wondering whether to continue.”
Aguero did not say whether he would follow Messi in quitting but media reports mentioned him, Javier Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain considering such a move.
Messi, who turned 29 on Friday, won under-20 and Olympic (under-23) titles with Argentina. He has led Barcelona to four Champions League and eight Spanish league titles, scoring 453 competitive goals in 531 games, including a La Liga record of 312 goals.