Lionel Messi’s relationship with Argentina and its fans has been an emotional rollercoaster.
It wasn’t until the Paris Saint-Germain star led his nation to its first trophy of the 21st century with Copa America glory last summer that it truly felt as though the country had given its heart to him.
There has always been a feeling in Europe, rightly or wrong, that the affections of most Argentina fans were still very much reserved for Diego Maradona.
Messi’s relationship with Argentina
Power to them, by the way, because it’s not a popularity contest and both icons deserve to be loved, but you always just got the sense that there was a certain level of resentment levelled at Messi for not having achieved the feats that Maradona did.
And that was especially the case in the mid-2010s when defeats in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America finals, as well as the 2014 World Cup final, led to Messi briefly retiring from international football.
However, even in those deepest, darkest moments when it looked as though the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner simply couldn’t crack the international game, his love for Argentina never wavered.
2015 FIFA Club World Cup final
In fact, amidst that most difficult of periods, Messi actually went head-to-head with a club from his native land, which really is a rare occurrence given that he’s spent his entire professional career in Europe.
But alas, the 2015 FIFA Club World Cup presented one of those infrequent opportunities as Barcelona looked to follow up their fifth Champions League success by conquering the globe.
And only River Plate of Buenos Aires stood in their way during the final in Yokohama with Messi having a rare chance to play in front of his compatriots in a club fixture.
In the end, to the surprise of very few, Barcelona ran out comfortable victors with Luis Suarez bagging a brace as part of a 3-0 triumph at the Nissan Stadium.
Messi apologises for goal vs River Plate
However, it was none other than Messi himself who opened the scoring in Japan and despite initially celebrating the 36th-minute strike, he quickly had the fans who had travelled all the way from Argentina on his mind.
According to Sport, Messi proceeded to hold his hands up as way of an apology to the 16,000 River Plate supporters who had made the mammoth journey from South America.
D'Onforio(President, River Plate) "Messi is a gentleman. When he scored the goal he raised his hand in apology" pic.twitter.com/YPp80q9LTf— ARG Soccer News ™ 🇦🇷⚽🚨 (@ARG_soccernews) December 21, 2015
The Spanish newspaper quotes him as saying in an interview with FIFA: “I know how much effort all those fans made in making that trip and how excited they were.
“And there was me, the Argentinian, scoring the first goal and ruining it all for them. I don’t know if I was actually saying sorry, but it was a type of apology.”
Video: Messi’s goal in the Club World Cup final vs River Plate
The Blaugrana icon was then asked if he would ever play in Argentina again, replying: “I had to leave at a very early age because of my situation and it didn’t happen.
“I had to go to Europe, start out with Barcelona and make my career there. But I would like to return to Argentinian football one day. What happens after that, only God knows.”
So, there really is no debating the fact that Messi always has the blue and white stripes of his native country close to his heart and hopefully last summer’s triumph helped to win him the favour he deserves.
From apologising to the River Plate fans in Yokohama to shedding many a tear upon winning the Copa America, Messi really does give his heart and soul to Argentina. Bring on Qatar 2022…
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