Lionel Messi is set to join eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo in making the 2022 World Cup in Qatar his last, but it could also be the end of the PSG superstar’s international career all together
At the ripe age of 34, Messi has very little left to do in the game, especially after last summer’s long-awaited Copa America triumph with Argentina. Having lost three finals earlier in his career, the Barcelona legend was a true talisman in leading his nation to glory – and as revealed teammate Emiliano Martinez, it was his last chance to do so.
Nearly one year on from winning the prestigious tournament on home soil, goalkeeper Martinez has shed light on Messi’s pivotal presence off the pitch, particularly during a rallying cry ahead of the final against Brazil. In a rousing pre-match speech, the current Paris Saint-Germain superstar broke the news that the 2021 edition of the Copa America would be his last.
“He made a speech saying this was going to be his last one and that he was going to give it his all,” Aston Villa stopper Martinez told Prime Video, via Goal. “I was like, little shivers, to Messi talking. Everyone shuts up. They’re all like that, whoever it is: manager, President of Argentina, whoever is there. They just shut up.”
Martinez’s behind-the-scenes revelation suggests that after a record 162 times caps and 86 goals for the Albiceleste, Messi’s international feats will finally come to an end following the World Cup in Qatar later this year – or at least before the 2024 Copa America in Ecuador.
Angel Di Maria has already confirmed that he will retire after the tournament ends in December, having been Messi’s teammate all the way back in 2008 for their Beijing Olympics triumph, three years on from winning the under-20 World Cup together in the Netherlands.
Quizzed on his hotly-debated future back in March, Messi – who turns 35 in two weeks’ time – replied: “I really don’t know. I think about what’s coming, which is very close; Ecuador, the preparation matches in June and September. There is a wonderful group here. People love me a lot and every day they show me more. I am very grateful.
“It does me good every time I come to Argentina. After the Copa America win, much more. Everything flows naturally and it is easier on the field. Winning helps make everything nicer and easier. [Venezuela] was the last game here [in Argentina] before going to the World Cup. I think it’s farewell in a very good way.”
The four-time Champions League winner has already called it quits on his country before, briefly retiring in the aftermath of their 2016 Copa America final defeat to Chile after losing to La Roja in the final on penalties for the second year running. 47 days later, though, the campaign for Messi to return proved to be a success and he reversed his decision.
Having shown that he can handle the mammoth job over the past four years, Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni is likely to be the man tasked with keeping the Albiceleste on track following talisman’s permanent retirement, and is already anticipating the day it comes.
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“After playing in a World Cup, everyone makes assessments. I’m not in the heads of the players to know what they’re thinking. In any case, you have to enjoy it. You don’t have to think about the future, enjoy their spectacular present,” Scaloni admitted.
“Sometimes, because that’s life, one gets old and I think that’s normal. But why not think about the spectacular here and now? Why not enjoy him now? It’s useless thinking about what is going to happen after the World Cup.”