IN the last three years, Lionel Messi resigned from Argentina’s national team after a lost final, had second thoughts and returned immediately afterwards, dyed his hair, grew a beard, got suspended for cursing at a referee, announced a team boycott to the Argentinian press and fell out with manager Jorge Sampaoli during the World Cup.
He then disappeared from the team for nine months and finally agreed to return in March, ahead of the Copa America, after his sons asked him to.
In the last three weeks, in Brazil, Messi sang the national anthem for the first time, protested against referees, repeatedly used foul words to describe the VAR decisions, was red-carded in the 3rd place playoff, refused to appear on stage to claim his medal, denounced CONMEBOL corruption, and pointed a finger at Brazil for having their victory staged as part of a conspiracy theory that involved dismissing him as revenge for his quotes.
Is Lionel Messi becoming Diego Maradona?
The question that has led to countless arguments and discussions in Argentina over the last 15 years suddenly prompted an unexpected answer, a twist that no-one was expecting. What if Messi is actually, literally, becoming Maradona?
Argentina have not won an official title since Copa America 1993. The 26-year drought included five lost finals: Copa America 2004, Copa America 2007, Copa America 2015, Copa America 2016, World Cup 2014. Messi took part in the latter four.
He has been constantly criticised in Argentina for not being a leader and not taking the reins of the team the way he did at Barcelona.
In the last few years, he has also been targeted for influencing managerial decisions and having his friends in the squad.
Truth is that Messi was left alone most of the time, without proper on-pitch partners, aside from the sporadic performances of Aguero, Di Maria and Gago, three of the players that understood him the most.
When he accepted a return to Argentina, he found a team that had been completely reshuffled to diminish his influence. An inexperienced manager (Lionel Scaloni) and most of his friends gone.
Messi only scored one goal in the Copa America (penalty kick against Paraguay) and his performances in the first four games were lack-lustre overall, something that he admitted in mixed zones.
But for many Argentinians, this tournament was considered a Messi redemption arch, the rebel that came seeking justice in an unfair world.
Messi will now be suspended and will miss the start of the qualifiers for Qatar 2022. He could potentially receive an exemplary ban over his comments, something that seldom happens, according to CONMEBOL sources.
But while the critics at home will now diminish, the real question now arises.
Is it the right path for Lionel Messi to try to become Diego Maradona?
Messi the fighter, Messi the ranter, Messi the conspiracy theory seeker, Messi the victim, were the new identities that prevented Messi the star from showing up. Is Messi 2.0 better than the original version?
In a populist world, it is not surprising that many people actually prefer this new combative Messi over the one that could dribble past five and celebrate in a silent, respectful way. – AIPS