World Cup winner Diego Maradona has called on compatriot Lionel Messi not to abandon international football after the Argentina captain announced he was quitting the national side following Sunday’s Copa America final defeat.
Maradona, captain of his country in the their second World Cup triumph in 1986, was among many leading personalities to speak out in support of Messi, who appeared badly affected by the penalty shootout loss to Chile in New Jersey.
The 29-year-old Messi, a multiple trophy winner with Barcelona, has now been part of four final defeats with the national team, three in the Copa America and at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“Messi must carry on in the national team… because he still has a lot to give, because he’ll get to (2018 World Cup hosts) Russia with chances of being world champion,” Maradona was quoted as saying in the Argentine daily La Nacion on Monday.
“He has to lean more on the lads who can help him take the team forward and less on those who say he should leave,” added Maradona, who played in two World Cup finals.
“Messi was abandoned and I don’t want to abandon him. That’s why I want to talk to him, to fight against all those who abandoned him,” said Maradona, who coached Messi and Argentina at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
A dejected Messi, who had said he would swap his five world player of the year awards for one title with Argentina, told reporters after the match he was leaving the national team.
“In the dressing room I thought that this is the end for me with the national team, it’s not for me,” he said.
“I tried so hard to be champion with Argentina. Now I am leaving without having managed it,” he said after the defeat at the tournament hosted in the United States to mark the centenary of South America’s flagship competition.
There was a strong show of support for Messi when the team returned to Buenos Aires, with fans displaying banners at the airport saying: “Without you we’re nothing, don’t go Messi” and “Stay Messi, you’re the best”.
A call went out on social media for a demonstration to be held on Saturday at the Obelisco monument in the centre of Buenos Aires, a traditional spot for celebrating sporting victories, to urge Messi to reconsider.
President Mauricio Macri, a former chairman of Boca Juniors who was pictured watching Sunday’s match wearing an Argentina shirt, joined in the show of support for Messi with a message on Twitter.
“More than ever I feel a great pride in our national team. I hope the joy of seeing the best in the world will continue for many more years,” he wrote.