Why Maradona is absolutely wrong

Lionel Messi is set to return for Argentina without actually missing a single match to play the World Cup qualifiers at home to Uruguay. While Diego Maradona thought Messi’s retirement was staged, Indranath Mukherjee explains why Diego got it all wrong.

Arturo Vidal went to the right of Sergio Romero in the penalty shoot-out in the Copa America 2015 final between Argentina and Chile and scored. In 2016 when he tried to go to the left of Romero, the goalkeeper saved his shot. It was Lionel Messi’s turn to give Argentina an early lead in the tie breaker. Messi who scored in 2015 by going to the left of Claudio Bravo again went to the left in 2016 but his shot was way too high and cleared the bar. Chile went on to win the shoot-out 4-2 when Lucas Biglia missed the fourth penalty for Argentina and Francisco Silva scored the fifth penalty for Chile.

It was the third final defeat for Argentina in three consecutive years after World Cup 2014 and Copa America 2015. A visibly dejected Messi announced his retirement from the national team after the game. He was quoted saying: “This is it. I fought hard. This is the fourth final I couldn’t win. I would like to win for the national team more than anybody, but I think it’s not for me”. These were the words of a player who had tried everything to win silverware for his country but could not. The state of affairs in the Argentine Football Association did not support a team who made it to three finals in three years. There were strong rumours that seven of the senior players including Messi and Mascherano had decided to bid farewell to their Albiceleste shirts.

It was evident that Messi’s decision was an emotional one. Diego Maradona had criticized Messi for lack of leadership quality just before the Copa Centenario and made a statement saying that Messi should not return to Argentina without the trophy. However there was no prior indication that he would retire after the tournament should Argentina not win it. Messi is 29 and still has got at least two to three years of top level football in him. His announcement to retire was shocking to the entire footballing world.

Maradona seemed to have understood Messi’s emotion and called on Messi not to abandon the international football. In the Argentine daily La Nacion, Maradona was quoted saying, “Messi must carry on in the national team… because he still has a lot to give, because he’ll get to (2018 World Cup hosts) Russia with chances of being world champion…He has to lean more on the lads who can help him take the team forward and less on those who say he should leave…Messi was abandoned and I don’t want to abandon him. That’s why I want to talk to him, to fight against all those who abandoned him.”

These were words of compassion. These were words of a great player who could understand the pain of Messi of not winning the finals and ready to embrace him and then inspire him to come back.

These were words of compassion. These were words of a great player who could understand the pain of Messi of not winning the finals and ready to embrace him and then inspire him to come back.

In the meanwhile Argentina had a change of manager. Edgardo Bauza took over from Tata Martino and he flew to Barcelona to have a word with Messi to understand his point of view. Post the conversation, Messi came out of retirement saying that his decision to retire was based on uncontrolled emotion stemming from the loss. “A lot of things ran through my head on the day of the (Copa America Centenario) final. And I seriously considered leaving the team. There are many things that need to be fixed in Argentine football. But I prefer to help from inside rather than stand on the outside and criticise” these were his statements on 12 August when he announced his comeback.

Maradona instead of being delighted with this decision went back to his critical mode saying that Messi’s short-lived retirement was just a savvy PR move. He said, “Maybe his retirement was staged to make us forget about the three final loses.”

Why did Diego say that? I am not being a judge or jury here. I can’t say whether Messi was right or wrong with his decision to retire or whether Diego is right with his statement. But who in his right senses think that these finals didn’t impact Messi as much as Maradona or any Argentine fan for that matter? If Messi had to stage anything, he could have done it right after the world cup, not after the least significant of the three finals. He is a footballer, not a manipulative politician. He is a human being; he may be a footballer of outstanding ability but he too has the right to get emotionally carried away.

As a footballer, Maradona’s performances have been mostly spectacular, although he had his off days as well. Even in his unsettled stint at Barcelona following a world record transfer, he got applauded at the Santiago Bernabeu for a goal which only he could score the way he did. But off the field, he made headlines for all the wrong reasons. From missing trainings for prolonged period to drug addiction – he covered a wide range. Giving conflicting statement is not something new for Maradona. He was inconsistent in his conduct in his playing days as well. While working very well with Carlos Bilardo during his heroics in the 1986 World Cup and taking the team to the final of 1990 World Cup, he had a tussle with him at Sevilla in 1992 when he was making a desperate attempt to return to top level football after being banned for cocaine. While Maradona’s love for football is beyond doubt, his self-destructing habits do place a strong question mark on his dedication to the game.

Why Maradona is absolutely wrong
An Argentina’s fan holds an image of Argentina’s forward Lionel Messi and former footballer Diego Maradona as Saints, before for the Group F football match between Nigeria and Argentina at the Beira-Rio Stadium in Porto Alegre during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 25, 2014. AFP PHOTO / PEDRO UGARTE

Lionel Messi on the other hand exhibits much balanced human characters. His love for football is second to none and he is perhaps the only genius of modern football whose name can be taken among the all-time greats.

While Messi draws somewhat universal adulation, Maradona attracts extreme emotions, people either love his strong emotional persona or they hate him for his often outrageous outbursts. This may actually bother Maradona and hence statements like “Maybe his retirement was staged” came.

Maradona cried like a child after losing out to West Germany in the 1990 World Cup final. While Argentina did not play the best brand of football in the tournament overall, the Mexican referee Ernesto Codesal Mendez was a tad too harsh against Argentina in the final. After the 2014 World Cup final, the image of Messi starting intently at the World Cup trophy amidst the frantic scenes around him as the German players prepared to lift the Cup was no less heart wrenching.

Messi for Argentina is not the same as Messi for Barcelona – this has been the constant criticism that he has been subject to for a very long time. In many such criticisms, there is a not so subtle hint that Messi is not as dedicated when he wears the Albiceleste shirt. There has been continuous comparison with Maradona because of the coveted 1986 World Cup win. These criticisms have hardly any footballing reasons. Messi was eligible for a citizenship in Spain thanks to his long term association with FC Barcelona. He could have just taken that and played along with his Barcelona team mates and perhaps would have won everything that is there to be won. But he did not go that way, he took the high road.

He doesn’t deserve to be treated like this by anyone, let alone someone like Maradona.

On 4 November, 2008 Maradona replaced Alfio Basile, who in his earlier stint was forced to take Maradona in his team for the 1994 World Cup, as the head coach of Argentina national team. The first thing that he did in his new role was to pinpoint Javier Mascherano as the captain of his team. “I want Mascherano to be my captain because I believe he is the Argentinian player who is closest to the idea I have about the Argentinian shirt – sweat for it, sacrifice for it, being a professional, being close to the team-mate,” Maradona reportedly said. Taking nothing away from the lion hearted Mascherano, were those words a dig towards Messi or the then captain Javier Zanetti?

He doesn’t deserve to be treated like this by anyone, let alone someone like Maradona.

Maradona’s team selection for the 2010 World Cup showed his lack of experience as a manager. There was no hint of a conflict between him and Messi though. Messi as a person is unlikely to develop strong differences with anyone for that matter. Especially when it comes to matters related to playing for Argentina.

While Maradona has always been very emotion driven person, he has the track record of behaving in an inconsistent manner. Many a times, his ego takes over everything else. He might have felt less important that Messi came back after speaking to Bauza. If Diego had spoken to Messi directly to convince him to come back, he probably would not have made such ludicrous statement.

Messi is set to return for Argentina without actually missing a single match to play the World Cup qualifiers at home to Uruguay and away to Venezuela on September 1 and 6. Carry on Lionel. May be time for you Diego to follow the religion that you inspired which says ‘love football above all else’.

Indranath Mukherjee

About Indranath Mukherjee

Indranath Mukherjee follows South American and European football. Apart from Football, Film and Music keep him going. You can follow him on twitter @indranath