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Is Lionel Messi Really Retiring From International Soccer?

Or were his post-Copa comments a power play?

Getty Images
Getty Images

Two grueling halves of extra time could not separate Argentina and Chile in Sunday night’s Copa America final. The victor to be decided in the most dispassionate (and worst possible) way: penalties.

After keeper Sergio Romero saved Arturo Vidal’s attempt, Argentina’s Lionel Messi went to the spot with a cushion. Messi being Lionel “King Shit” Messi — ignoring that whole tax thing and the fact that Argentina had met their demise at the hands of this exact same opponent in this exact same situation just a year before — a converted penalty seemed almost a foregone conclusion.

But there are expectations, and then there’s unwelcome reality:

In the brief moment spanning Messi’s approach to the ball, Argentina’s first major trophy since 1993 felt well within reach. But whatever momentum they’d picked up with Romero’s save their would-be savior sent sailing way, way over the bar. Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo parried an apprehensive Lucas Biglia effort, Francisco Silva finished soundly, and Chile were crowned Copa America champions for the second consecutive time.

All at once, 23 silverware-less years struck Messi in the stomach with the full force of, well, 23 silverware-less years. Despite winning everything there is to win at the club level with Barcelona, that international title drought has been one tough bastard in the corner opposite Messi. If we’re scoring this (and we are) that’s three summers in a row that Messi has made it to a major international final, and three summers in a row that he has failed to lead his team to the land of milk and honey.

No sooner did we process the emotions from seeing him with another runners-up trophy and ask why he cries like that, than we read:

The direct translation is a little rough, but the gist is Lionel Messi has retired from international soccer. Javier Mascherano too (and maybe Sergio Aguero), but Lionel Messi.

What and also why.

Maybe he was extremely pissed at Gonzalo Higuaín, for obvious reasons? More realistically, it could be that he’s leveraging his resignation to force the Argentine Football Association to book the team and staff in better hotels or be generally better at booking things on the whole. That bull-in-a-china-shop approach to negotiations has worked recently before; Conor McGregor got his UFC 202 rematch by going into faux-retirement and whipping everyone up into a frenzy, only to return two days later.

It could also be that losing just really, really, really sucks and people tend to make really bizarre decisions in the immediate aftermath. Kind of like Messi has allegedly done before, by refusing to accept the “best player” award at the 2015 Copa America.

It’s possible he felt the weight of his compounded failures and announced his retirement from international soccer in the heat of the moment, but it’s also hard to believe he’d say something like that — as calmly as he did — if he didn’t mean it. There’s no way to know for sure until he’s had a chance to shower, put on non-team-licensed gear, get out of New Jersey, and collect his thoughts.

As it stands, Argentina, still silverware-less and with World Cup 2018 fast approaching, will be without their once-in-a-generation talent (and maybe their chance at snapping the skid). So will we. That’s the harder part to accept.