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Messi statue unveiled in Buenos Aires

Lionel Messi's decision to retire from international football has shocked the whole of Argentina. PHOTO/DM.
Lionel Messi’s decision to retire from international football has shocked the whole of Argentina. PHOTO/DM.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina June 29 – The president of Argentina said on Tuesday he hopes to meet Lionel Messi next week and convince him to return to the national team.

President Mauricio Macri said he had spoken by telephone with Messi after he announced his shock retirement from the Argentine national team following the dramatic penalty shoot-out defeat by Chile in the Copa America final last Sunday.

Messi returned to Argentina on Monday, but has not spoken publicly about his decision. Macri said he told Messi to ‘ignore some of the nonsense because, truth be told, we are all very happy’ with how the Barcelona star has played for Argentina.

Messi, who moved to Barcelona aged 13, has often faced tough criticism in Argentina because he has failed to deliver the country a major title. The lack of success with La Albiceleste is in direct contrast to his huge trophy haul with the Catalan giants at club level.

Messi is often compared unfavourably to Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title, but Macri said he didn’t understand the criticism of a player widely accepted as the world’s best.

‘The truth is that it’s good fortune, a joy, a gift from God to have the best player in the world in a country like ours that is so football crazy,’ said Macri, a former president of Boca Juniors.

Macri’s lobbying could be helped by a gathering planned for Saturday at the obelisk in central Buenos Aires, the city’s most famous landmark.

Support for Messi has been overwhelming on social media with sports figures, artists and politicians urging him to return.

Billboards and signs across the city are also asking him to stay. In the midst of the turmoil, the Buenos Aires city hall unveiled a statue of Messi with a football at his foot – alongside other national sports stars.