Despite the plethora of accolades and silverware arguably the game’s greatest ever player has achieved at club level with Barcelona, Lionel Messi on the international circuit won’t make the football fan go as googly-eyed.
Granted he has scored a record 65 goals in 128 caps for Argentina, but with silverware not forthcoming, at the World Cup, nor in the Copa America, some have incredibly levelled the accusation that his legacy will be tainted; simply put, no cup for country, no party.
This week Messi is looking to return to the international fold after almost a year out of the side. It is the second time he had seemingly called quits on his international career only to make a u-turn.
In 2016, following defeat to Chile in the Copa America final on penalties, Messi announced, somewhat dramatically in a toys-out-of-pram fashion, that he was stepping down from the Argentina set-up. Two months it took the diminutive magician to reverse his decision.
The exit to France in the Quarter-Finals of the World Cup in Russia marks his last cap, slinking into the shadows, and leaving fans guessing whether he’d ever return. In 2019, he’s now reunited with former international teammate Lionel Scaloni, formerly Jorge Sampaoli’s assistant, who has taken charge of the side.
It will be 265 days since his last appearance - in the Quarter-Finals of last summer’s tournament - and 270 days since he last scored a goal (against Nigeria).
As The Great One prepares to face Venezuela to mark his return, here’s some of his esteemed luminaries who also couldn’t simply stay out of the international spotlight.
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Far and away the most-capped player in Italy’s history, the peerless Gigi Buffon also holds the record for taking part in the most World Cups in the country’s history (five), winning once as Fabio Cannavaro held up in the trophy in Berlin in 2006. He retired after Sweden ended their chances of going to Russia last year, but came back months later to the set-up for a brief period, owing it to the late Davide Astori.
The now-PSG keeper is still being urged to return to the azzurri, at the ripe old age of 41!
Zinedine Zidane (France)
A great story with a terrible, heart-breaking ending (unless you’re Italian). ‘98 World Cup winner Zizou was coaxed back into Les Bleus set-up by coach Raymond Domenech in 2006 after previously announcing his retirement after France’s elimination at Euro 2004 (to eventual winners Greece in the Quarter-Finals).
At the World Cup in ‘06, though he was awarded the Golden Ball for being the best player at the tournament in Austria & Germany, the world watched stunned as the thrice-awarded World Player of the Year had to trudge past the most prestigious trophy in football after headbutting Marco Materazzi, ending his France career with ignominy.
Henrik Larsson (Sweden)
The ‘idolo’, as Brazil legend Ronaldinho used to call him, Larsson just couldn’t resist the call of the yellow of his homeland Sweden.
The Celtic hero had an extensive, beautifully-rounded playing career a club-level. Though it was in 2009 at Helsingborg that he marked the end of his professional playing career (sporadic appearances came after), it was well before in 2002 after the South Korea & Japan World Cup with the knock-out to Nigeria that the then-30-year-old called it quits.
But that wasn’t enough! Larsson returned for Sweden for Euro 2004 and carried on all the way to the World Cup two years later. He finished his international career with over a century of caps.