Argentina legend Diego Maradona believes Lionel Messi no longer owes the national team anything, and should not come back from his self-imposed exile from international football.
After a disappointing World Cup in which Argentina, finalists in 2014, barely made it out of their group and crashed out in the Round of 16 to eventual winners France, Messi announced he would not be available for the September friendlies against Guatemala and Colombia, which he duly skipped.
Sources later suggested he could stay out of international action for the remainder of the calendar year, and it’s unclear whether he’ll return for the 2019 Copa America, if at all.
Messi has yet to win an international tournament in his career, though at times he has fought a lone battle as the shining light of otherwise underperforming teams, and the pressure of winning, especially a World Cup – a trophy Argentina have not won since Maradona led the side to glory in 1986 – has weighed on the Barcelona star.
Maradona, now coaching Mexican side Dorados, says the player has nothing left to prove, however, and should officially retire rather than step back into the spotlight.
“What would I tell Messi? To not come back any more. To retire,” the current Dorados coach told Clarin on Sunday.
“The Under-15s lose and it is Messi’s fault, the fixture list in Argentina puts Racing against Boca and Messi is to blame. He is always to blame. Stop breaking my balls.
“I would tell him: ‘don’t go anymore, man’. Let’s see if they can handle that. Let’s see if they’re really big men.
“I would have liked to see him tell us all to f**k off. Because he is not to blame for us not being world champions. Fine, we all placed our hopes in him, but when you go to the racetrack you hope your horse wins and he comes in eighth.
“In Formula One Vettel has a great engine and Hamilton beats him. Right now the national team doesn’t do anything for me or for the people. We have lost that. The passion. It cannot play against Nicaragua or Malta, no, brother. We are throwing all the prestige we earned down the toilet.”
Maradona also criticized Lionel Scaloni, the current Argentina manager after Jorge Sampaoli was sacked following the World Cup disappointment, for leaving the No 10 jersey vacant while Messi makes up his mind.
“[Scaloni] is an idiot. He seems like an idiot. Because if I went and gave the 10 to Messi, Messi should give it to the next 10. It’s ridiculous, it gets me angry,” he fired.
“Scaloni is a great kid but he can’t even manage traffic. How can we give the national team to Scaloni?! With everyone who has passed through that team, who got their teeth and heads broken, you’re going to put Scaloni in?
“Now Scaloni says ‘I am prepared’. I’ve never even seen you score for Argentina. No offence. As a person, let’s go and share a barbecue. But as a coach and in the national team, no.”
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Lionel Messi denied Barcelona might be suffering a case of the jitters after dropping points for the third successive league game.
The reigning champions came into Saturday’s visit of Athletic Bilbao having been held 2-2 at home by Girona last weekend and surprisingly beaten 2-1 by lowly Leganes in midweek.
And back-to-back league defeats for the first time in two years looked a distinct possibility as Athletic – without a league win at the Nou Camp since 2001 – led through Oscar de Marcos’ first-half volley until six minutes from time.
After Philippe Coutinho and Messi had struck the woodwork, substitute Munir El Haddadi eventually saved Barca’s blushes but it is not the result, or the form, that the Catalan giants would have wanted heading into a daunting run of fixtures.
However, Messi, whose side now face Tottenham, Valencia, Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid in successive matches, insists they are not feeling under pressure.
“There’s no anxiety. We have to improve on many things but this is just the start and the season is very long,” he said in quotes reported by the Spanish press.
“We’re only upset for the last two results because we didn’t expect it. We had a good first half in Leganes and we lost, today we created enough chances to win and couldn’t do it.
“We’re aware of the fact that we have to be stronger in defence and not concede goals in every game.
“We’re coming off a year where it was difficult to score against us and now we’re conceding too easily.”
Perhaps with one eye on Barca’s unenviable October schedule, which begins with Wednesday’s Champions League trip to Spurs, Messi started Saturday’s match on the bench.
With Barca trailing though, the Argentinian was thrown into action in the 55th minute and he struck the post before playing a key role in Munir’s late leveller.
Luis Suarez said Barca cannot just depend on Messi to continually dig them out of holes, and the club’s all-time record goalscorer added on the same subject: “We have a squad and players to make a great team, a strong side which doesn’t have to depend on anybody.
“Today’s result was a shame but we need to be calm.
“Now we have to think about Wednesday, where we have a very tough game against a very difficult team.”
Barca coach Ernesto Valvede, who has lost Sergi Roberto to injury for the trip to London, said on his club’s website: “We need to fight our way out of this bad run, lift our heads up and keep looking forwards.
“This has been a difficult week. We were hoping to get nine points and we’ve only got two.
“We have another difficult game coming up on Wednesday but we need to take a big step forward in the Champions League.
“The team has a strong sense of responsibility and we’ll be giving it everything we’ve got against Tottenham.”
He may not have been present at this week’s ‘The Best’ FIFA awards in London, but Lionel Messi should have still walked away with the men’s player of the 2017-18 season gong.
That’s the view of Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde.
But, despite that, the Argentina icon’s coach is backing his man to the hilt.