Over the past three years, Lionel Messi quit Argentina’s national team after a lost final, had second thoughts and returned immediately afterwards, dyed his hair and grew a beard.
He was suspended for cursing at a referee, announced a team boycott to the Argentinian press and fell out with manager Jorge Sampaoli during the World Cup.
Then he disappeared from the team for nine months and finally agreed to return in March, ahead of the Copa América, after his sons asked him to.
Over the past three weeks in Brazil, Messi sang the national anthem for the first time, protested against referees and repeatedly used foul words to describe decisions made by the video assistant referee.
He was red-carded in the third-place play-off, refused to appear on stage to claim his medal and denounced the South American Football Confederation as corrupt.
He also pointed a finger at Brazil for having their victory staged as part of a conspiracy that involved dismissing him as revenge for his quotes.
Is Lionel Messi becoming Diego Maradona?
The question that has led to countless arguments and discussions in Argentina over the past 15 years suddenly prompted an unexpected answer – a twist that no one was expecting. What if Messi is literally becoming Maradona?
Argentina have not won an official title since Copa América in 1993.
The 26-year drought included five lost finals in 2004, 2007, 2015, 2016 and the World Cup in 2014. Messi took part in the last four.
He has been constantly criticised in Argentina for not being a leader and not taking the reins at the team the way he did at Barcelona.
In the past few years, he has also been targeted for influencing managerial decisions and having his friends in the squad.
The truth is, Messi was left alone most of the time without proper on-pitch partners, aside from sporadic performances from Sergio Agüero, Ángel Di María and Fernando Gago – three players who understood him the most.
When he accepted a return to the Argentina national team, he found a team that had been completely reshuffled to diminish his influence. An inexperienced manager (Lionel Scaloni) and most of his friends were gone.
Messi only scored one goal in the Copa América (a penalty kick against Paraguay) and his performances in the first four games were lacklustre overall, something that he admitted.
But for many Argentinians, this tournament was considered a Messi redemption arc – the rebel who came seeking justice in an unfair world.
Messi will now be suspended and will miss the start of the 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifiers. According to South American Football Confederation sources, he could receive an exemplary ban over his comments, something that seldom happens.
But, while the critics at home will now diminish, the real question now arises.
Is it the right path for Lionel Messi to try to become Maradona?
Messi the fighter, Messi the ranter, Messi the conspiracy theorist and Messi the victim were the new identities that prevented him from showing up. Is Messi 2.0 better than the original version?
In a populist world, it’s not surprising that many people actually prefer this new combative Messi over the one who could dribble past five and celebrate in a silent, respectful way.
. This article appeared in the AIPS Newsletter