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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

My 6-year-old asks me why they don’t want me in Argentina: Lionel Messi

Usually reticent, Argentina’s finest footballer since Diego Maradona and Barcelona’s heartbeat Lionel Messi gave an insight into what goes on in his mind when he admitted to being angered by the constant criticism back home in a no-holds barred interview

football Updated: Mar 31, 2019 01:46 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi
Argentina captain Lionel Messi looks dejected during their friendly defeat against Venezuela.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi looks dejected during their friendly defeat against Venezuela. (REUTERS)
         

Usually reticent, Argentina’s finest footballer since Diego Maradona and Barcelona’s heartbeat Lionel Messi gave an insight into what goes on in his mind when he admitted to being angered by the constant criticism back home in a no-holds barred interview on Thursday.

In an interview to Spanish station Radio Club Octubre, Messi opened up on how he feels about the constant criticism from Argentine media about his performances for the national team.

“My six-year-old asks me why they don’t want me in Argentina,” Messi was quoted as saying. “They said I was driving the AFA (Argentine Football Association), that I was driving that ‘club of friends’ formed by (Angel) Di Maria, (Gonzalo) Higuain and others.

“That makes me angry. We always had problems with local journalism, new things have been said every day, but we have allowed them to say anything and let them pass lies. That was a mistake,” said Messi, who has been dealing with fitness issues since Christmas.

Chelsea striker Higuain, who had announced his retirement from the Argentine team last Thursday with a terse “you can now stop worrying about whether I am there or not’, had expressed similar sentiments in an interview with Fox Sports.

“I saw my family suffer for the things that were said,” he said, “people talk without thinking that the players are human beings like them and they never put themselves in our shoes.”

Messi had led Argentina to the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil — their first since the 1990 edition in Italy — but lost to Germany. In the 2018 edition, Argentina bowed out in the Round of 16 after losing 3-4 to France. Messi’s gift has been a boon for Barcelona, who took him in as a 13-year-old at La Masia, their youth academy, and watched him grow into one of the greatest players ever to play the game.

Messi, who has broken every major record at the club level, including most goals in La Liga, has not had the same success with Argentina. Though the Argentine team Messi has captained has never been anywhere near as good as his Barcelona side, the 31-year-old forward has never stopped trying. He almost single-handedly pulled Argentina to two Copa America finals and the 2014 World Cup final.

“I surely want to win something with the national team, otherwise I would have stayed at home,” Messi said. “But it’s hard. My son is always on YouTube, and he saw a video and asked me ‘Why are they demolishing you in Argentina?’”

The exit in Russia last year was particularly difficult, revealed Messi. “I thought about locking myself up, mourning only with my family, I wanted to forget what I had lived, to get away from the team a little, to let time pass and to calm down. The elimination hit me hard, finish the cycle of that way it was painful.”

“Our generation of players has been abused in Argentina.” he added. “We play for our jersey, and we want to achieve something for the team. I will play in all the competitions and major matches for my team,” said Messi who had stunned the world by announcing his retirement after Argentina lost to Chile on penalties in the 2016 Copa America final but was persuaded to reverse his decision within a couple of months. Argentina are still without a major title since the 1993 Copa America, but Messi isn’t losing hope.

“My relationship with all the players in the team is great. They have to be calm, and they have to play the same way they play at the weekend with their clubs. I’m fully convinced that we will become strong with some patience,” he said. “Recently I thought; Spain 2010 was a great team, they were phenomenal, but they also had luck in the World Cup final against the Netherlands, and before, they beat Paraguay on penalties, you often need those lucky moments and we never had them.”

Messi even had kind words for Cristiano Ronaldo, praising him for the level of competitiveness in La Liga during the time he was with Real Madrid. “It was nice to have Ronaldo in La Liga for the prestige it brought. I respect Juventus a lot. It’s a big club and has now become more powerful with Cristiano. We hope to reach the final and don’t care about facing them,” said Messi who doesn’t want retirement thoughts to cloud his mind right now.

“I’m playing for myself, my family, and all those who enjoy what I do. And those who don’t like me have to tolerate me for a while,” he said. “I’m going to extend my retirement as much as I can. I love football, and I’ll keep playing as long as I can. I was born for it.”

First Published: Mar 30, 2019 18:07 IST