Is Argentina Finally Showing Messi Love?

Soccer love is bizarre. For a long time, Lionel Messi has struggled to gain the love and admiration of many Argentinian fans, who expect him to play for his national team the way he does in Barcelona, and commonly refer to him as “pecho frio.” But something strange happened yesterday, as fans began supporting Messi because they think Argentina’s current fútbol team will suck without him.

People reacted quickly after a rumor spread that he’s thinking of taking a break from La Albiceleste due to the heavy criticism lobbed his way following Argentina’s Copa America loss to Chile, (their second final loss in less than a year). #SinMessi started trending on Twitter as fans imagined a future without him.

It was a strange change of pace from the criticism Argentina fans have been lobbing his way. For a long time Messi’s detractors have argued the Barcelona star is not Argentino enough because he’s never played professionally in his home country, and moved to Spain when he was just 13 years old.

The player, who’s marveled coaches since he was a very young boy, moved in order to treat a growth hormone deficiency he was diagnosed with at the age of 11. His family struggled to pay for the necessary $1,500 a month treatments, and after financial support from Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys was withdrawn, they found help in the form of La Masia, Barcelona’s renowned youth squad.

As they say, the rest is history, and Messi became the star that he is today. He ‘s been awarded the Ballon d’or four out of the last six years, scored more club goals than Maradona, led Barcelona to top the world for the last ten years, and is considered by many to be the best player to have ever existed.

Yet despite winning pretty much everything, he hasn’t been able to win over Argentina fans, who feel he simply doesn’t play the same way with the national team as he does with Barcelona. He doesn’t sing the national anthem, he’s too cold, y no siente la camiseta, as they say.

It’s true, Messi hasn’t performed at the same level in Argentina as he has in Barcelona; with Barça, he’s won it all, while in Argentina he hasn’t won a single thing.  But the truth is, the same can be said of all current Argentinean players. For example, Carlos Tévez hasn’t won anything either, but he is loved by his countrymen. Carlitos is seen as someone who started at the bottom; just like Maradona, he played on Boca Juniors, which won him populist support.

Messi, on the other hand, is perceived as having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, after spending most of his life in Europe. It’s ironic really, given that the move was motivated by the fact that his lower middle class family couldn’t afford his hormone treatments.

There is also the fact that Messi is now competing with Maradona for the acknowledgement as not only Argentina’s best player, but also as the best player ever. But the simple fact is that Messi is not Maradona. El Diego is very outspoken and controversial, while Messi is more of an introvert. Maradonna scored the best goal in World Cup history and was touched by La Mano de Dios in the same game (against England in the 1986 World Cup). Messi might be an out of this world player, but he cannot compete with the Argentinean D10s. Maradona simply transcends the world of futból that Messi is confined to.

In his early years, Messi had the opportunity to play for the Spanish national team, but he always chose Argentina. Despite his many years in Spain, he’s maintained his Argentinean accent –”sh” included – and never adopted the distinctive “s” of the Spaniards.  Messi has never seemed to regret choosing Argentina over Spain, but has publicly stated that he feels pressured and hurt by his many critics back home.

If he’s going to take a break, that might be the reason. Choosing his national team isn’t enough – he has to justify it, and that can become exhausting.