Star forward Lionel Messi has announced his return to Argentina’s national team for their World Cup qualifiers in September, ending his short-lived retirement from international football.
A disappointed Messi had announced his international retirement after missing a penalty in the shootout defeat to Chile in the final of the Copa America Centenario in June.
It was the third consecutive loss for Argentina in the final of a major tournament following defeats at the 2015 Copa America and the 2014 World Cup.
The announcement led to an outcry in Argentina with fans from all over the world expressing their disappointment. Even the legendary Diego Maradona urged the Barcelona superstar to reconsider his decision.
“I see that there are a lot of problems in Argentina football and I don’t want to create more,” Messi said in a statement on Friday. “I don’t want to cause harm, on the contrary, my goal was to help in any way I could.”
Messi, who is Argentina’s all-time leading scorer with 55 goals in 113 appearances, made references to problems within the Argentine Football Association (AFA) a few days before the Copa America final.
The Barcelona star had said that the AFA was “a disaster” after the team suffered delayed flights and experienced problems finding opponents for training games. “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,” the 29-year-old said.
“A lot of things ran through my head on the day of the Copa America final. And I seriously considered leaving the team. But I love my shirt and my country too much. I want to thank all the fans who wanted me to keep playing for Argentina. I hope we can give them joy very soon,” he said.
With the CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) deadline to name the squads for September’s qualifiers looming on Friday, newly-appointed Argentina manager Edgardo Bauza had expressed confidence that Messi will change his mind and opt to return to the national side. That belief was rewarded with Messi’s confirmation later in the day.
Bauza, who took over as the national team coach after the resignation of Gerardo Martino last month, had flown to Spain to meet Argentina players in Barcelona on Thursday and reassure them there would be order in the squad despite the ongoing chaos within the AFA.
He said that he did not pressure Messi to reconsider his decision to retire from international duty and had “only talked football” with the striker, but claimed he wanted to return.
“There is no doubt in my mind that he wants to return to play for the national team,” Bauza told reporters in Argentina. “I saw him with a great desire to return.”
Argentina are preparing for September qualifiers against Uruguay and Venezuela after crashing out in the group stage of the Olympics for the first time since 1964.
The AFA, which had been led by Julio Grondona since the 1970s, has been in turmoil since his death in 2014. In June, FIFA stepped in and named a committee to run its daily affairs with a stipulation that elections must be held by July 2017.
Maradona had claimed the chaos within the federation was institutional and that Messi had been right to comment on it.