DIEGO Maradona’s first competitive match as coach of Argentina was a World Cup qualifier at home to Venezuela.
Lionel Messi scored a goal of such genius that Maradona thought that everyone in the stadium should have been forced to leave and buy another ticket to get back in.
Lionel Messi may have played his last game on Argentinian soilCredit: AFP
Soon it will not be possible to buy a ticket to watch Messi’s magic – especially for an Argentine audience.
Last Friday he was on target again against Venezuela as Argentina strolled to a 3-0 win. There was a party at the final whistle – perhaps tinged with sadness.
Messi himself said that he would rethink a number of things after the World Cup. Argentina are unlikely to play at home before Qatar. They have a game lined up against Italy in London in June’s FIFA dates.
They may even have to go to Australia to play the World Cup qualifier against Brazil that was abandoned last year.
There seems little chance of bringing all their players back across the Atlantic for a World Cup warm up in September.
Messi, then, may never play a serious home game for his country again. Indeed, Tuesday’s visit to Ecuador could even be the last competitive match that he ever plays in South America.
In the past Messi spoke often of the dream of rounding it all off where it started, with an end of career jaunt with Newell’s Old Boys in his native city of Rosario.
Over time, though, this has become less probable. Messi is often critical of the state of South American pitches, and is also aware that there would be little peace for him and his family.
A few days ago, in the fierce historical derby between Rosario Central and Newell’s, home made grenades were thrown on to the field shortly before the kick off. Messi clearly does not need this. A stint in Major League Soccer would surely be less stressful.
The irony here is that Messi has never come across as more of an Argentine. He lived in Barcelona from the age of 13, and back in the land of his birth there was often an impression that he was more a Catalan than one of them. That has changed over recent years.
Around the same time that he fell out with Barcelona, he also changed his approach with the national team. He had often been seen as an aloof figure, whose lack of communication skills could intimidate the younger players.
But in the 2019 Copa America he was different. He became the vocal and encouraging leader of a team that started to gel during that competition.
Argentina lost to Brazil in the semi final. Nearly three years later, they have not been beaten again.
Messi is embedded into the side in a way that was never seen before. So often in his time with Argentina he was required to drop deep and pick up possession in order to kick start the moves.
Messi has become the leader for the Argentinian team as the years have gone onCredit: AP
Messi is considering his future after the 2022 World CupCredit: AFP
Now, with Leandro Paredes, Rodrigo De Paul and Giovani Lo Celso, there is an attractive circuit of midfield passing that brings Messi into the game where he can do most damage, closer to the opposing goal.
Unsurprisingly, the Argentine public have taken Messi and the team to its collective heart.
For the rest of the year, though, they will have to follow their exploits on television – with the bittersweet feeling that the party is coming to an end.