Lionel Messi is on the verge of returning to the Argentina national team for the first time since the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. According to Ole out of Argentina, the Barcelona superstar will end his national team sabbatical and return for upcoming friendlies against Venezuela in Madrid on March 22 and Morocco in Rabat, four days later.
This is not the first time Messi has taken a hiatus from the national team. Following Argentina’s loss to Chile in the 2016 Copa America Centenario in the United States, Messi told reporters his Argentina career was over before coming out of “retirement” three months later for World Cup qualifiers. In the World Cup in Russia, Argentina barely escaped out of the group stage before losing 4-3 to eventual champion France in the round of 16. It was a turbulent campaign that featured an embarrassing 3-0 loss to eventual runners-up Croatia in the group stage, with rumors of internal mutiny and mistrust over manager Jorge Sampaoli. After getting bounced by Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and company, many wondered if Messi would hang up his international boots and never play for Argentina again.
Since that match, Messi hadn’t played for the national team or spoken publicly his decision to play or sit out Argentina games. Here’s what Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said about the idea of Messi rejoining the team, via ESPN:
“We will probably talk days before we provide the list for the FIFA March window.
“When the time comes, we will speak to him, and we have a good feeling. I hope he can be with us and be happy.”
Argentina FA president Chiqui Tapia told Ole, “If the coach calls him up, Leo will be there.”
The March friendlies against Venezuela and Morocco make a ton of sense because it’s the perfect time for the team to ease him back into action before this summer’s Copa America — which can be streamed on fuboTV (Try for free). Argentina hasn’t won a trophy since the 1993 Copa America — the only glaring void left in Messi’s storied career resume.
It’s an exciting time for the national team even with the nightmare that was the Sampoli era at the World Cup. The squad has recently been filled with fresh blood and Scaloni has given playing time to a bunch of experienced players who weren’t given enough time (or any time for that matter) earlier. Scaloni has been able to clear out some of the old, past-their-prime talents. He’s given opportunity to Tottenham’s young central defender Juan Foyth, Gremio’s Walter Kannemann, young established players in Europe like Santiago Ascacibar of Stuttgart and Rodrigo de Paul of Udinese, and he’s even been willing to let Inter Milan star striker Mauro Icardi play a prominent role on the front line.
With Messi to set to return, there’s no doubt he’ll be the face of the national team but he’s also likely going to notice a lot of new faces around him with Argentina starting to build toward the future. It’s no secret they want to give some young and hungry players a shot to help turn the tide. Whether that’s enough to get Argentina over the hump remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt the team has a much better chance of success with Messi on the field.