“Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real”– Jesse Williams
I had a fairly difficult time titling this piece. I played around with “The Stars Also Cry,” thought that wasn’t quite good enough and changed it to “Geniuses Also Cry,” and had opted for that until I had some sort of eureka moment and finally settled for the current title which I consider more apt. I may have been wrong, so feel free to work with whatever title resonates better with you. With that out of the way, the Copa America finals which culminated in the seventh consecutive defeat in major international tournaments for the Argentina national team, and a fourth consecutive loss at the finals for the magical football genius called Lionel Messi in the colours of his home country was one loss too many. It had become perennial thorn in the flesh of a man whom many regard as the best footballer to ever play the round leather game. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had had enough. Consequently, he announced his retirement from international football immediately.
Messi, who only turned 29 a few days ago and certainly has a couple more productive years ahead in his football career retired from the international scene out of frustration. The frustration of knowing that he let his team down by failing to convert his penalty. The frustration of having to admit that he fell short of the expectations of over 41 million Argentinians yet again, let alone billions of fans who adore him across the world. The droop in shoulders, that look of regret and eventual tears after the penalty shootout were a poignant sight for anyone who has followed the football maestro’s career which has spanned over a decade.
The outcome of the Copa America final between Argentina and eventual winners Chile and the subsequent retirement of Messi got me thinking. Even geniuses cry. The best of the best have moments in time when they have genuine cause to wonder how good they really are. For all his international acclaim, brand endorsements, worldwide following, incredible fan base, numerous individual awards and trophies, broken records and matchless achievements, the Barcelona forward must have looked at himself very differently that fateful Sunday night and wondered if he was actually worthy of all the hype and accolades that have trailed him throughout his illustrious career. And I understand, this was one thing he wanted most at this time in his career. And he fell short.
Time and time again he has been close to winning a trophy with his national team. A feat that many insist he must achieve before he can stand shoulder to shoulder with the all-time greats (a notion I disagree with by the way), Maradona and Pele. At the moment, he must feel like the fates are against him or the god of soccer cast a spell on him. Here’s a man who has won it all. Almost. But, chose to take the rash decision of quitting the national team in his prime. It’s the danger of being so good. It’s the danger of being too good. In a world where mediocrity is celebrated everyday people like Messi can hardly be understood.
I was discussing his decision to retire from the national team with a friend, and how I empathize with him and believe he could still rescind his decision after giving it further thought. My friend disagreed. He was of the opinion that the Argentinian captain is only being selfish and egotistic in his decision. While I disagree that he is being selfish, I absolutely agree that his ego has been badly bruised, even though I wouldn’t tag that egotism. But frankly, I don’t think anyone should begrudge him for that. It is hard for a genius to accept any form of failure, especially failure in a field where he is arguably adjudged to be the best. Messi has failed to win a trophy with his home country on four different occasions. Apart from the enormous pressure he has been under to deliver with Argentina over the years, it can’t be easy for even the average person to handle failure four times, let alone an individual of exceptional natural abilities.
We all remember at least one person in our primary or high school days who genuinely believed they had let themselves down after getting just one question wrong in an examination even though they still had an A+ in it and scored a hundred percent in all other subjects. We all have that one friend or family member who’s very particular about crossing their “T’s” and dotting their “I’s” to perfection. Some of us can never understand it. Forget that. Many of us of will never understand it. We think they are too finicky. We believe “their own is too much.” But these are the ones who stand out from the crowd because their way of thinking and acting is far above and beyond average as they strive for perfection in all they do.
The reality is, even if Messi never kicks another ball again, it won’t take anything away from what he has achieved so far, the numerous records he has shattered or the super legendary status he has attained. I am one of those who are unwavering in their belief that the diminutive superstar is the best footballer ever to play the beautiful game or grace any pitch of play. It would take years, decades, heck, even centuries for anyone to break his many mind-blowing records. This retirement decision of his is only borne out of the angst and devastation of a man who’s so good, he can’t help but beat himself up for something that should be the responsibility of a group of people.
When a person is that good, it’s especially difficult for them to accept defeat, and successive defeats more often than not tend to take the wind out of their sails. But, if anyone has the ability to bounce back from a setback, it is they. The same spirit that makes them doubt their genius often times also prods them to give it a try one more time. I’d hardly be surprised to see Messi lead the Argentine national team to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, particularly now that the Argentine president, and football icon, Maradona have urged him to rethink his decision.
As a true great, Messi must eventually shrug off his current woes and rise again like the champion that he is. The Michael Jordans and Muhammad Alis of this world faced many challenges throughout their career, but kept focus until they surmounted that which threatened to make a nuisance of their genius.
Messi cannot give up now.