“The team has ended for me, a decision made,” if Argentina’s defeat to Chile did not kill a fragile fan from the country, this quote from the team’s talismanic skipper Lionel Messi would certainly have. On June 27, 2016 – exactly a year ago – Messi, aged just 29, had decided to hang up his boots, shirt and armband that he wore for the Argentina football team. They had lost the final of the 2014 World Cup to Germany, the 2015 Copa America final to Chile and the 2015 Copa America Centenario yet again to Chile.
Messi, apart from that celebration after scoring a goal, rarely betrays emotion on the field. While he has won almost everything there is to win with Barcelona, that extraordinary success has been balanced out with a failure to win anything with Argentina. On that night, after his team failed to beat Chile in the penalty shootout, partly because of his own missed penalty, the emotions came through. “I tried my hardest. It has been four finals, I want more than anyone to win a title with the national team, but unfortunately, it did not happen… I think this is best for everyone, firstly for me and for a lot of people that wish this. The team has ended for me, a decision made,” he told reporters after the match. It was relayed to televisions across the world and the shock was not limited to Argentina.
Suddenly, it all seemed to fall apart. The sheen of the stars in the national team seemed to give away to reveal the rot beneath. Messi’s announcement was one that also brought out the disarray in the Argentine Football Association and the league system of the country. It also led to rumours that the likes of Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria, Ever Banega and Gonzalo Higuain could all follow their captain out of the national team.
There was, of course, a unanimous outpour from Argentina asking Messi to stay. He was greeted with “Don’t go Messi” banners being held up by hundreds of supporters when the team arrived at the airport in Buenos Aires. The mayor of Argentina’s capital city also unveiled a statue of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. It was rather expected that Messi would reverse his decision and that it was taken in the heat of that moment and sure enough, just a week after announcing his retirement, it was reported that the Argentine no. 10 shirt and armband would still be worn by him. “A lot of things went through my mind on the night of the final and I gave serious thought to quitting, but my love for my country and this shirt is too great,” he said later.
A year later, Argentine football doesn’t seem to have cured itself despite that jolt it received. The national team is facing a possibility of not qualifying for the upcoming 2018 World Cup. FIFA had, earlier in the year, threatened the Argentine FA (AFA) with a possible suspension ahead of its crucial World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Bolivia later this month if it does not accept South American confederation CONMEBOL’s role in vetting candidates before the March 29 presidential election. Lack of money and dog fights over decision-making processes means that chaos still reigns supreme in the AFA.