The recurring misfortune of the Argentine national football team at cup finals was widely-tipped to end at the just-concluded Copa America Centenario. Rather, it ended in heartbreak, premature retirement and an unfavorable court verdict for one of the game’s finest players. This writer consoles the legend that is Lionel Messi.
It is sad what happened to you on the night of June 26, Leo. It was a day you were eagerly anticipated to annihilate the elusive. Despite all your successes in Catalonia, your compatriots and the world wanted to see you write a new chapter in the book of your professional life. A few weeks before that, you gave them all bright hope. You had just ended another season as League and Cup champion in Spain. You were a shining light as the captain of the national team. You scored goals with marvelous ease, the highlight of which was a wonderful free-kick goal scored against the Yankees. But it was not to be. At your fourth national final, you and your brothers-in-arms just could not vanquish the onslaught of a formidable foe. Ultimately, you felt you have had enough. “I quit. This is not for me anymore. I have given my all”, you said.Take heart, Leo. Life can be very unfair, I know. You have had your fair share of victories. But you should expect a bitter dose of defeat, too. Life is in shades of grey. You must learn to take defeat in your stride, move on but never quit, for quitters do not win. Even some of your countrymen who hitherto did not appreciate your talent and value are pleading for your return. Do not for one moment think your efforts are in vain. No, you must rise from the ashes of defeat and reach for the skies. No matter how much you fail, you must keep trying and trying until victory is yours. At your age, you may feel that time is a luxury you cannot afford. However, you should remember that there are other greats who were not as prolific as you now are. And some greats had to toil before becoming champions. Hence, you need to give it another try or two before you call it quits.Recently, you and your father were given a 21-month prison sentence for tax evasion. But this does not disprove your already undeniably legendary status. You are a winner at every other level: the Olympics, the world U-20s, the UEFA Champions’ League, the Primera Liga, the FIFA Club World Cup and other competitions. You are the only five-time FIFA Player of the Year. You are La Liga’s record goal scorer. You are the record highest scorer in both a Spanish and a European football season. You are also the record scorer in a calendar year. You have won the “major treble” twice and you are the first man to score in six official competitions in a season twice—two enviable records. This article is not enough to espouse your career achievements, and there are other records that are within your sights.The list of your personal and team awards is a very long one. But it is bereft of national honours. For these, you have strived time and again to achieve, but it keeps slipping out of your grasp. You tried at two previous Copa Americas (2007 and 2015) and at a very painful World Cup final defeat in 2014. The latest defeat is a travesty of diligence. Even in your disconsolate state, some have said that you do not have leadership qualities, while others have said that your greatness lies in the confines of the Blaugrana colours, not those of the Albiceleste. Whatever they say, one thing is clear: you will always be a football legend, national honour or not. You are not only a great player but also a joy to watch on the field of play. You bring sublime artistry into your performance. It is a privilege that we are seeing you at play in our generation. Boys will want to be like you long after you have hung your boots and girls will grow to become mothers who will name their sons after you.Another World Cup in Russia is around the corner, and another Copa in Brazil a year after that. It is another opportunity to try. Never say die, Leo. Harken to the call for you to shelve retirement. Winners are the ones who do not quit, and they are the ones remembered by history. Dust your boots, lace them and get on the field again. Try again, Leo. You never know. You may get your reward the next time out.It is not over, Leo. It is just not over, yet.