Why Argentina will rue taking Lionel Messi for granted

Has Lionel Messi won the World Cup? No. Has he won the Copa America? No. Is he still a Argentina great? Yes. To say Messi is an underperformer for his national team is understating at so many levels, criticising him for not leading his country to a major tournament glory is beyond sense and sanity.

But Messi continues to attract negativity whenever he puts on the white and sky blue stripes of Argentina. This in spite of leading them to their best phase of results in the past two years. After last year’s World Cup final defeat, Messi’s Argentina once again faltered in a major tournament final this summer, falling to Chile in the Copa America.

Messi was speaking to TyCSports at the end of the international break this week, and his words echoed the sense of unequivocal disappointment of his side who had suffered from back-to-back setbacks in successive summers. His words had connotations of arrogance, not because of his own pride, but because he had belief in his team-mates.

“Everything bad that happened to us was because we were convinced that it was the moment, that we would be champions, for how we arrived, for the group and because we had a lot of faith. It was very hard for everyone,” said the Barca forward, publicly expressing his disappointment of the Copa America defeat for the first time to the media.

It isn’t always that you find people complaining about one of their country’s top scorers. But Messi’s overly successful time with Barcelona has proved time and again to be the bridge burner with the Argentina fans and the Argentine public. In a player, there is sometimes a threshold that breaks when he is subjected to intense pressure.

And Messi is no different. Despite perceptions of the angelic in him, the 28-year-old feels the pain of being on the wrong end of his people’s frustrations, but he seldom retorts, instead accepting what has been and striving hard to do better in the future.

“They received a lot of criticism and much of it in a bad way. We had two finals in a year, which is not easy. Now come more objectives and new opportunities. We have to keep fighting,” he added. While he is never the one to vocally admit to his own frustrations, his time with the national team could be closing in on the finish line, even though Messi himself says otherwise.

“While the coach wants, I will be here always, more after all the disappointment we have had to not win anything while I am in the national team.”

His words fail to pass the test of conviction; there remains an air of perplexity to what he said. Did he drive home his point of commitment to La Albiceleste? It is difficult to judge from mere words, but given his familiarity and attachment to Barcelona, his abandoning of the national team couldn’t entirely be ruled out.

They say the more special something is, the more people seem to take it for granted. The Argentine public could hardly be apportioned much blame, but should their under-appreciation for the world’s best player reach tipping point, there will be more tears than tirades.

And all along the way, Messi will harbour a greater sense of Barca belonging, while Cules will barely complain.

By Abhijit Bharali, columnist at Barcablog. Follow him on Twitter here.