Why Lionel Messi's retirement shows that great players need not have a fairy tale ending
It was supposed to be a happy Monday morning but instead turned out to be one of sadness for many. The world woke up to the news of Chile inflicting yet another defeat in a Copa America Final on the same opponent as 2015- Argentina- thereby leaving many in the latter, bitterly disappointed. The saying,” Does lightning strike the same place twice” had come true once again, but perhaps, not on the right occasion.
As the Argentinian and the rest of the footballing fraternity were beginning to digest the news, came another shocker, courtesy star forward Lionel Messi, who had announced that he would no longer represent his country in any competitions.
The news dominated the sporting headlines and expectedly so. This was no ordinary footballer announcing that he was leaving the scene, albeit in international capacity. Messi has been a proven performer over the years and is expected to generate reactions from around the globe, over any decision he takes.
Messi’s exit is another example of what, or rather how, sport really is. It owes nothing to anyone, even if you are regarded as the greatest footballer this generation has seen.
Ask Zinedine Zidane, what it means to be sent off in a World Cup final, no less. Ask Rahul Dravid, on how it feels to leave the game, on a bitter note, at the same venue, where many years ago he had scripted a fairytale win for his country.
These ‘underserved’ endings makes us ask ourselves an important question: Does sport owe a great athlete a magnificent farewell? The answer is NO.
Sport doesn't know about emotions. It doesn't relate to it. It has no sense of who is a hero or a villain. It doesn't owe an athlete anything for his/her service to it and so it doesn’t have to always give that person the sending off that he/she deserves.
Had Messi converted that penalty and had his side won, would he have continued to play for Argentina? Of course he would have. 29 is no age to quit anything, let alone sport. What could have led to him making the call was what happened after he missed. The fact that him not converting and his side losing out for a second consecutive year in this very competition is a pill he could just not swallow. He was under huge pressure and he couldn’t deliver, for the second year in a row.
But that’s the way it goes sometimes. As I said on top, sport doesn’t owe anything to anyone and so, to speak about why an individual didn’t go on a high sometimes is a question that can’t be answered.
There are, however, a few exceptions. Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, received a glorious farewell in front of his home fans in Mumbai. Messi’s long-time teammate at Barcelona, Xavi Hernandez, didn’t quite have a happy ending to his international career but got a superb farewell from the club where he had grown up, winning the Champions League in his final appearance for them, along with the La Liga and the Copa Del Ray in his final season with them.
While it may never be any more celebrations for Messi in the White and Blue, one can be hopeful that when he does leave the football pitch altogether, he goes on a high. Like Tendulkar, he certainly is deserving of that.