Javier Mascherano has said he was saved from considering international retirement after Lionel Messi opted to return to the Argentina team following his brief retirement.
Messi, 29, called it quits after missing a penalty in the shootout defeat to Chile in this summer’s Copa America Centenario final — the third consecutive loss for Argentina in a major final.
He made the announcement amid an ongoing scandal in the Argentina FA and national team coach Gerardo Martino followed him out the door a month later, replaced by Edgardo Bauza.
Messi’s national team exit created doubts for Mascherano, who said having Messi back saved the Albiceleste from a possible overhaul of players.
“At my age and because of all the years I have been with the national team, certain rumours start to swirl after a loss like that [Copa America],” Argentina’s second-most capped player told Ole. “The loss to Chile said it all, so it was not the time to say anything, because everything had already been said. “I just tried to think clearly.
“After that match, there was a lot of talk, and then a lot of things happened over the next month, after Gerardo [Martino] quit and we had to see how the story developed.”
It was Bauza who travelled to Barcelona in August, persuaded Messi to return and eased Mascherano’s fears.
Messi’s Barcelona teammate said that he and many others would have called it a day with Argentina, too, had the country’s all-time top scorer not changed his mind.
“The fact that a teammate and a friend, who is also the [Argentina] captain, said that he didn’t want to come back anymore, made you think. We all asked ourselves what we would do if Leo didn’t return. Because behind that decision there was a reason,” Mascherano told AS.
“Either Leo would come back or he would never come back again.”
The two are in Buenos Aires this week training as Argentina, currently third in the CONMEBOL qualification group, host Uruguay on Sept. 2 before facing Venezuela away on Sept. 7. Messi trained on Tuesday despite a sore hamstring.
Contrary to reports, Mascherano said that Messi’s decision to quit in June had been brewing from the start of the Copa America.
Messi had earlier voiced his discontent via social media about the poor management at Argentina Football Association’s (AFA) after his national team’s flight to New Jersey from Houston was delayed.
“It wasn’t a decision that Leo took in the heat of the moment,” Mascherano said. “He had his reasons.
“And now, because of his commitment to the Argentina national team, he is back and we have to value it.”
Messi has 113 caps with Argentina and is his nation’s all-time leading scorer with 55 goals.
“It would have been a sin for Argentinians to be deprived of watching Messi play with the national team,” the 32-year-old Mascherano said.
“It wouldn’t have been fair for him nor for the Argentinian people. The situation was resolved in a normal way, with his return to the national team.”
Mascherano, like Messi, has lifted many trophies at Barca. But for Argentina, his medals have been limited to 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold since making his senior debut with Argentina in 2003.
Like Messi, he also felt the frustration of being on the teams that finished runners-up in the 2014 World Cup and in the Copa America in 2015.
“I don’t feel like a failure for reaching three consecutive finals. Here in Argentina this has happened to many of us,” Mascherano said. “I haven’t had the good luck to win absolutely everything, but I have always answered the national team call.
“There are positives to take away from second place. We got to the finals, we didn’t win, but we were in no way inferior to our rivals. The most important thing is to not lose sight of our goals.”
Mascherano said the upcoming qualifiers were key to Argentina’s future and inspired him to continue.
“I don’t think now is a good time to throw in the towel,” he said. “We must continue the work we started a year ago. We are almost halfway through qualifying and we know that everything depends on the results over the next three months.
“It would be great that the Russia World Cup could be the end of my [international] career.”