Why Lionel Messi should follow Iniesta's retirement example
After leaving Barcelona for J.League side Vissel Kobe and enduring an early exit in the World Cup, Andreas Iniesta also retired from the Spanish national team. Lionel Messi suffered the same fate. Argentina too were ousted in the Round of 16. Debate surrounded Messi's role in the team. Whatever it was on a given matchday, he failed to impress.
Entering the competition on the back of a Liga and Copa del Rey double with Barcelona, the Maestro was expected to star in the tournament. He didn't register his first goal until the final group game. It was his only strike in the competition. The team failed to win when Messi did not score. Over-reliance on the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was blamed for La Albiceleste's failure.
Messi's journey with the Argentinean national team rarely found calm waters. The diminutive dynamo has been in four World Cup tournaments and never won whereas no trophy at club level has escaped him.
Iniesta shared that Blaugrana success with Messi for a decade. Unlike his friend and teammate, however, the Spaniard scored the winning goal that handed La Roja the World Cup trophy at South Africa 2010.
Messi won the U20 World Cup in 2005 and Olympic gold in 2008. The Olympics, of course, are an U23 event. Messi's success at the international youth level hasn't travelled with him to the senior team.
The 2013 and 2015 Copa Americas ended in goalless draws with Chile. Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal and company won both on penalties. Messi missed his spot kicks in both shootouts. In fact, he was on a three-kick run of misses when Hannes Halldorsson saved his effort in the group stage in Russia.
Between the two continental failures, Argentina failed to score in the 2014 World Cup final. Mario Gotze kept the match from going to penalties and delivered Losing three successive finals at the senior level can be devastating for any player. It is therefore understandable he made the temporary decision to quit the national team setup
Edgardo Bauza persuaded him to return. He single-handedly took the team to Russia with his hat-trick against Ecuador at altitude in the qualifiers. One brilliant game rescued a moribund campaign. He couldn't carry the momentum to the Steppes.
In a group comprising Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria, La Albiceleste were heavily favoured. They barely scraped through, only for France to boot them out of the tournament. So, where does Messi go from here?
The Barca star is already in his 30s. By the time Qatar 2022 comes around, he will be 35. If he can't help Argentina in his prime, how will he have any influence when he's well past it?
Messi's presence in the national team is already seen by many as a distraction. The game plan is to play for their star man and let him do the rest. Opponents know it and cut off his supply. What is the best solution?
Messi needs to follow Iniesta into a setting or rising sun and call it a day with the national side. That will end everyone's misery.
The Albiceleste need a new lease on life. After almost two decades of Messi-dependence, it's time for a rebuild that leaves him out of the picture. Argentina has always been blessed with an abundance of talented footballers. Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Christian Pavon are entering their primes. Messi barely stands 5' 7" but casts an immense shadow. Let his countryman play in the sun.