Lionel Messi has officially quit international football. On Sunday, the Argentinian soccer team suffered another defeat on penalties at the hands of defending champions Chile in the 2016 Copa America final. The match seemed to be an especially tense affair for the FC Barcelona superstar — who, upon experiencing severe mental stress, was reduced to tears after sending his shot over the crossbar.
After clenching his teeth and sinking to his feet, Messi left the stadium sporting a dazed and pained look while tears skimmed down his face. However, the full consequences of four major final defeats in a row were yet to be revealed.
After collecting himself, Lionel Messi ,five-time FIFA Player of the Year, four-time Champions League winner eight-time La Liga winner with FC Barcelona and hailed as the one of the greatest soccer players ever, announced his retirement from the Argentinian National Football Team.
“The national team is over for me,” a distressed Messi told Argentine network TyC Sports on Sunday night. “It’s what I feel now, a great sadness has occurred again. It fell to me to miss the penalty, it was very important. I’ve done all I can, it hurts not to be a champion,”
This was the fourth time Messi has lost a major final with Argentina, the most infamous being their defeat to Germany at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, while this was the second consecutive time Argentina lost to Chile.
However, at the end of the day, when the dust settles, the question about Messi’s inability to convert from the penalty spot and carry his team to victory over the final hurdle remains.
Was The Mental Stress Too Much For Messi?
Whenever we mention sports, the image which comes to mind is of glittering stadiums, fit athletes and deafening crowd cheers. However, there is a dark side to it all — although the physical strain on athletes has always been addressed, the psychological struggles faced by our favorite players are constantly neglected.
It is a fact that athletes suffer from emotional ailments such as depression, performance anxiety, low self-esteem and burnout just as much as everyone else. However since athletes are pressured to excel and sometimes do not receive the proper psychological help they need, some health care experts believe the anxiety felt by athletes is similar to PTSD felt by army veterans after returning from war.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has also shared concern over the mental well-being of athletes. Experts believe when an image of athletes “being strong” is endorsed, sportspeople are often left to handle personal issues on their own. This unique set of circumstances experienced by players in the world of professional sports can lead to depression or anxiety.
Sometimes extreme pressure faced by athletes can manifest itself in the form of an inner voice, which highlights their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. The bombardment of this inner voice can enhance feelings such as seclusion, depression, or grief, and at times lead to rash decision-making.
This is not the first time a player from the Argentinean team quit unexpectedly. Carlos Rao, hailed as an Argentinian hero during the 1998 World Cup for his incredible expertise in blocking goals, unexpectedly left the sporting world in 1999. But Rao’s reasons for leaving the team were even more mind-boggling, as he was a committed member of the Seventh day Adventist church and believed the turn of the century will bring the apocalypse, forcing him to quit soccer to prepare for the supposed end of the world.
Likewise, another curious case of unexpected retirement in sporting history was that of Björn Rune Borg. Borg, a Swedish tennis player believed to be one of the greatest in tennis history, won 11 Grand Slam open era singles between 1974 and 1981, winning almost 90% of the matches he entered . However in 1982, at the age of 26, Borg announced his retirement citing burnout the main reason behind his decision.
Is it possible that the immense pressure of securing a championship for Argentina was too much for Messi? Even though it was once Messi’s dream to play and win a championship for his country, the experience may have soured after the team suffered back-to-back losses. Moreover, it was Messi who took the brunt of the blame along with a painful back injury in 2012 and a knee injury suffered last year in October 2015. Are stress, anxiety, grief or burnout to be blamed for this momentous decision?
Whatever the reason for the current situation may be, Messi already has a history of undergoing medical treatments. Little ‘Leo’ Messi, El Enano, meaning “The Dwarf”, who started his soccer career with FC Barcelona at the age of 13, was diagnosed with dwarfism when he was only 10 years old.
Dwarfism, growth hormone disorders (GHD) or idiopathic short stature (ISS) is a medical condition characterized by short height, usually found in children with deficient levels of growth hormones.
At the time of his diagnosis Leo, also called El Pulga meaning “The Flea”, was only 1.25 meters tall, which was 10 cm less than his average age. After a year of tests, doctors treating Messi decided on giving him injections of a biosynthetic growth hormone. However the treatment posed a problem, since the hormone cocktail prescribed to Messi was extremely expensive and came with a price tag of $1,000 and 1,500 a month, a bit too much for the child’s father, Jorge Messi, a humble steel factory worker. For two years, the Argentinian social service system funded the treatment following which the entire Argentina’s economy collapsed. During this perilous time Jorge decided to take his son to Spain where he was signed by FC Barcelona, with the club paying for all of Messi’s future treatment expenses. Messi currently stands at a healthy 1.69 meters tall, and is believed to be one of the fastest soccer players on the planet due to a very low center of gravity.