Quitter, escapist, loser, timid, traitor — in the last few days, all these adjectives have been used to describe Lionel Messi.
While the Argentine fans have spewed venom out of sheer anger, the rivals have hurled well-timed cheap shots at the greatest footballer in the world.
For years, Messi has bored the blame of being aloof to his national cause. Every time Argentina lost, his devotion to the national team was questioned. However, when the Argentine captain announced his retirement in the cramped press corner of the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, it suddenly hit home that the best player in the world won’t feature in the blue and whites anymore.
While the entire world was shocked at his emotional farewell, those who follow Argentine football knew it was coming.
Messi gave in because he couldn’t take it anymore. He gave up because he was tired of proving his worth to a bunch of disapproving fans.
The question wasn’t ‘why’, the real question was – ‘what took him so long?’
There was no love left between Messi and Argentina. It was a relationship that developed out of convenience with distrust lurking on the edges. It never had the resolute support, the mutual respect or the soothing care that’s necessary to build a successful bond.
It had to fail. It did.
It was a match made in heaven but neither could make it work. It always felt like a marriage where the father of the bride paid his debts off to the groom’s family by offering them his daughter.
Argentina never trusted Messi but demanded him to deliver. He was their favourite whipping boy but he was their captain, their savior. He shouldered the responsibility of being the best player in the team. He also was ‘the outsider.’
Now, he’s gone and rightly so.
Messi never owed a thing to Argentina. He was forced to leave the country at the age of 13 when his boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys, gave up on him. He was a frail kid and the Rosario-based club couldn’t afford his growth hormone treatment.
Since then, Messi has been paying for it. He’s been labelled as a foreigner by his own country but what most don’t know that even at La Masia he was treated as a foreigner. The Catalans didn’t accept him as a fellow mate at first but his skills won them over.
But those skills were not enough for the La Albiceleste. They needed more from him — a World Cup, a couple of Copa Americas. They wanted him to dominate Brazil. They wanted him to be their next ‘Diego’. They demanded. Messi tried. Messi failed. Messi tried harder. Messi failed again. And again. And again.
They demanded. Messi tried. Messi failed. Messi tried harder. Messi failed again. And again. And again. He got them to the cusp of glory once, twice…four times but could never take them over the line. He couldn’t because he tried his hardest on those days. May be, he tried his hardest to be ‘Diego’ on those days.
Diego was loved because he fought wars wearing the national colours. Messi couldn’t become Diego because he was fending off attacks from his own countrymen. Even the great Diego ridiculed his Golden Ball win at the World Cup. Recently, he called him a failed leader. Finally, it became too heavy to bear, even for a five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Is this the end though? Or will he reconsider his decision?
May be not now but come 2018, the appeals would grow stronger. The ones who asked him to ‘stay in Spain’ and called him ‘the outsider’ would have to go down on their knees and beg for his mercy.
Diego already has.
They say a missed penalty on the biggest nights scars you for life. Roberto Baggio didn’t recover. But the missed penalty at the Copa final might have liberated Messi. It was a sign that both Argentina and Messi need to move on and start fresh — empty-handed and full-hearted.
Who said all ‘happily ever afters’ need a happy ending?