Argentina captain Lionel Messi has indicated that he will not represent his country in its attempt to defend its World Cup title in 2026.
“I think not. [Qatar] was my last World Cup. “I’ll see how things go, but as it is right now, no, I won’t go to the next World Cup,”he said to Chinese outlet Titan Sports (via ESPN’s Adriana Garcia)
The 35-year-old admitted in February that his age would most likely be a barrier, but he left the door open for another World Cup run. Messi’s impending move to Inter Miami and the Major League Soccer also represents a step back for him. He appears to have some good years ahead of him, but leaving Europe means he will no longer be able to compete at the highest levels of the sport.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner has not retired from international football entirely. He was named to Argentina’s squad ahead of upcoming friendlies against Australia and Indonesia.
Given how close the 2024 Copa América is, it seems reasonable to assume he’ll want to compete there as well. La Albiceleste are the current champions of that competition.
But it would be fitting if Messi’s lasting image from the World Cup is of him being carried by his teammates while holding the trophy aloft.
Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni has been paving the way for Messi to be a part of his plans during the country’s title defence, saying when asked about the possibility of his captain staying on for a few more years:
“We have the door open for him and if we see no, we’ll look for an alternative.” I hope he makes it to the next World Cup; I see him there, but I believe the first step is to qualify.”
The 2022 World Cup was arguably Messi’s pinnacle achievement in his legendary career. In addition to Argentina’s team victory, he received the Golden Ball, which is awarded to the best overall player, after scoring seven goals and assisting on three occasions.
World-class athletes don’t often get to leave on top. That is exactly what Messi will get to enjoy if he decides not to wear the Argentina jersey in three years.
Messi is a member of Argentina’s current squad, which is in China for a friendly match against Australia, and he already has 174 caps and 102 goals for his country.