As the Copa America final ended in the early hours of the morning (well UK time at least), few people will have stayed up to watch Chile collect their medals.
They probably missed the tears rolling down the faces of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, after Argentina lost yet another major final – this time to Chile (a repeat of the Copa America final last year of course).
That was preceded by the World Cup final against Germany, and Messi especially has always been dogged by accusations he does not do enough for his country.
An astounding accusation for the guy who is arguably the best ever with a football at his feet – but one that plenty of people have thrown around regardless.
‘Messi Man of the Match’ is now a running joke in football after the Argentinean was awarded the Player of the Tournament AKA the Golden Ball after losing the World Cup final – a game and indeed a competition where he was far from his best, and genuinely looked embarrassed to have won the personal accolade.
This time however, no one could accuse the player of failing to deliver for his country. Messi has lit up the Copa America, there is no doubt about it.
A sublime free kick here, a 19 minute hat-trick there, oh, and moving to the top of his country’s all time top scorers list with 55 goals. Yeah, he’s not done too badly.
That was before the final, where a standard Gonzalo Higuain stinker was had, and the rest of the team weren’t great either, with the official handing out cautions as if they were sweets and the players were kids at a party.
They almost looked like they were trying too hard, but given it was their third major final in three years and they’d lost the other two, you couldn’t really blame them.
As the game looked like edging towards a penalty shootout, all eyes fell on Messi, who as we know, doesn’t have the greatest record with penalties, yet despite all that, the number ten stepped up first – unlike a certain rival, who loves the glory of penalty number five.
After his almost inevitable miss (because the Football Gods decided just this once not to smile down on the sensational player) he looked crestfallen.
As Argentina went on to lose the shootout and competition as a whole, roommates Messi and Aguero comforted each other in floods of tears, with the whole scene heartbreaking unless you’re the President of the Ronaldo fan club of course.
In which case it was f*cking hilarious considering all the trolling Cristiano has received this summer, and something well worth staying up that extra hour for just to get your memes and jokes out there on social media.
Still, with the World Cup 2018 just around the corner and another big shot at a trophy (despite it being on Russian soil, which will obviously hamper the South American sides), 29-year-old Messi had it all still to play for.
That was before he, Aguero and Javier Mascherano decided to hang up their boots (internationally at least), with more players to possibly follow.
Messi spoke after the game and said:
It’s not meant for me. For me the national team is over. I’ve done all I can, it hurts not to be a champion.
It’s been four finals, I tried. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn’t get it, so I think it’s over.
I think this is best for everyone. First of all for me, and then for everyone.
I think there’s a lot of people who want this, who obviously are not satisfied, as we are not satisfied reaching a final and not winning it.
It’s very hard, but the decision is taken. Now I will not try more and there will be no going back.
Of course, this could all just be a ‘heat of the moment’ reaction, with several other players following suit and Gonzalo Higuain even claiming that he might also retire – which given his record in finals is hardly a bad thing.
Messi has already made 113 appearances for Argentina, having made his debut back in 2005, and since then has lost four major finals with the team.
All eyes this morning are on Messi, but it’s worth keeping in mind the comment from fellow hanger-upper-of-boots, Sergio Aguero, who claimed the dressing room mood was ‘as low as it’s ever been’, – that coupled with Messi’s ‘I won’t try anymore’ comments do give impression that this might not be the end after all, and both can be coaxed back into the fold once the dust has settled.
Footballers are humans, and temperamental ones at that, meaning their reactions are often more extreme than normal people. Add to that the pressure and weight of the entire nation’s expectations on you, and it makes for a pretty stressful situation.
Messi has no break. No time out. He is the hero for club and country, and has to perform week in week out.
The pressure and headlines when he doesn’t (on those rare occasions) are enormous, and must be so hard to deal with, when added on top of his own personal feelings that he will of course be trying to process.
That is what the majority of the football world will hope – that this is indeed all a very emotional reaction of a player who has given it his all, and simply cannot fathom why it seems to click so well for him domestically and so scarcely internationally.
If only he could give Xavi and Iniesta a call…