It would simply have been cruel. Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players ever to step foot on a pitch, just did not deserve to go through his entire career without an international honour.
Of course, harsher things have happened to players in football history. Hell, more upsetting things have been witnessed in the last month alone. But the response of Messi’s Argentina teammates at full-time following their 1-0 Copa America final win over Brazil on Saturday night told the story as to just how much the entire nation was longing to deliver him the trophy he deserved.
We’re not forgetting the 34 major titles he’s won with Barcelona here, including those 10 La Liga crowns and four Champions League successes. But what we are saying is that following everything he has given to Argentina, whether in his 151 games in the Albiceleste shirt or in his statesmanship as a football icon in general, it would have been a bit of a travesty had he not eventually won something with the national team.
Angel di Maria’s wonderful first-half lob over Ederson was enough for Argentina to beat their old enemy at the world-famous Maracana, but the scenes at the final whistle were enough to suggest Messi had scored a match-winning double-hattrick, so delighted were the players for their captain and talisman. As Messi went down to his knees in tears of unadulterated joy, his teammates swamped him and then gathered to throw him up in the air in jubilation.
This was a tournament in which Messi had scored four goals and set up five more in his seven appearances. For that alone, he arguably deserved to get a hands on the trophy. But think about his contributions in years gone by too, how he led from the front in their assault on the 2014 World Cup which was ended in the final by Germany, and then there were the three previous Copa America finals that had ended in defeats and invariably led to threatened international retirement.
In truth, it looked as though his time had passed with the Argentina national side. Following that 2014 failure in Brazil and the successive Copa final losses in the two years which followed, it appeared that he would be destined to leave the game with one goal unfulfilled. Their ramshackle performance at the last World Cup in Russia was suggestive of a period of transition, their spanking by Croatia and a chaotic draw with Iceland leaving them staring at a group exit and their eventual loss to France was an absolute spectacle but also an exhibit of Argentina’s huge flaws.
So his eventual triumph in the Copa America at the age of 34 just when it seemed that international success was destined to elude him is an extra special bonus. A full 28 years on from their last continental title, Argentina are champions again. And as Lionel Messi stepped up to lift the trophy in front of his ecstatic colleagues it was hard to tell whether they were most delighted for themselves and each other, or simply for their captain extraordinaire.
If anyone deserved more than anything to lift an international trophy, it was Lionel Messi. He has now not only given all he has to the game but also won just about everything it has had to offer too.