Messis misery: Why the Argentina star needs to step up at the Copa America

When the Copa America starts this weekend, Lionel Messi will face the familiar situation of carrying the weight of a nation's hopes and expectations on his shoulders.

Argentinas chances will again largely rest on the genius in the number 10 shirt; invested in him will be his countrys dreams of ending a 26-year wait for a major international trophy.

Since winning the Copa America in 1993, Argentina have suffered the pain of defeat in five major finals – Messi playing in four of those.

In that time, Argentinas national footballing agonies have become Messis personal tragedies; a running sore that has festered despite all the glittering success he has enjoyed with Barcelona.

Messi has picked up four Champions League titles and dozens of other prizes with his club.

But with Argentina, nothing.

After junior success at the Under-20 World Cup and Olympics, there has been no reward for Messis 130 senior caps and 67 goals.

Indeed, the tears that Messi shed on his full debut for Argentina as an 18-year-old in 2005 – when he was sent off less than two minutes after coming on against Hungary – were a harbinger of what was to come.

In the 2007 Copa America final against Brazil, an Argentina team that had been impressive in the tournament up to that point went down to a 3-0 defeat.

Messi was just 20 at the time, and not yet the fulcrum of his nations hopes, but that was a tag he firmly bore as captain by the time Argentina reached the World Cup final in Brazil in 2014.

But again, he was largely peripheral in a final that his team lost 1-0 in extra-time to Germany, famously seen wandering off as manager Alejandro Sabella gave a team talk at the end of full time.

Agony followed in consecutive years in Copa America finals, first in 2015 when Argentina lost a shootout to hosts Chile, again after Messi had failed to make his mark on the game.

The following year, Messi missed a penalty in the shootout in New York as Argentina again lost to Chile in the centenary edition of the tournament.

A distraught Messi famously quit the team in the aftermath, vowing: "This is not for me. We've lost again. Another final. I'm not meant to be here."

He did, of course, reverse that decision, but has since faced more misery at the World Cup in Russia last summer, where despite a stunning goal against Nigeria in the group stage he failed to leave his mark on another major tournament.

READ MORE: Copa America: Why are Japan and Qatar playing? Has Lionel Messi ever won it?

A steady beacon of brilliance at Barcelona, Messi has sparkled more intermittently in the famous white and light blue of Argentina: a wonderful lob against Mexico in the 2007 Copa America, a curled effort to break a resolute Iran at the World Cup in 2014, a hat-trick against Ecuador to drag his nation into last years finals in Russia.

Significantly, though, he has never conjured up those moments of magic when it matters most, almost as if the burden of carrying Argentina so far proves too much just when the stakes are highest.

Messi as Argentinas messiah is a complex story. While he is held up as a once-in-a-generation talent, he is not revered in the same way as Diego Maradona, that other legendary Argentine number 10.

Maradona almost single-handedly dragged his nation to World Cup glory in 1986; Messi does not have that career-defining tournament to his name.

Maradona did his time domestically at Boca Juniors before departing for Europe, while Messi was gone at the age of 13 and has been at Barcelona ever since.

Perhaps because he is a distant hero – geographically at least – Messi is also perceived as having less passion for his homeland.

That notion is false – Messi wears his heart on his blue and white Argentine sleeve just as much as he does in the famous Blaugrana of Barcelona – but it is a persistent one.

It is also wrong to pin Argentinas failings solely on Messis shoulders.

Nine managers have been in place since he made his debut, and the team has often been accompanied by the typical turmoil and intrigue that surrounds the national set-up.

But as the leader of the team and the fulcrum of their hopes and dreams, Messi is naturally placed in a searing spotlight far more than any other player when they fail.

As Messis star has risen, so has his control over the Argentina team, to such an extent that he reportedly wields power over who is called up and who isnt.

Successive Argentine managers have found the challenge of managing Messi difficult; the environment at Barcelona – which has been carefully calibrated and constructed around their star man since the days of Pep Guardiola – is much harder to replicate at international level, where games are far fewer and farther between.

Ahead of the World Cup in Russia, then-manager Jorge Sampaoli said Argentina was “Messis team,” and the captain was famously seen gathering the team for a huddle in the tunnel at half-time during the crunch game against Nigeria,Read More – Source