Messi's international retirement: How he rose to Barcelona fame, where it went wrong for Argentina

Lionel Messi has said he will retire from international soccer, after Argentina was beaten by Chile in the Copa America final.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi waits to receive the second place medal after the Copa America final in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on June 26, 2016.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi waits to receive the second place medal after the Copa America final in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on June 26, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

So used to winning team titles and individual accolades for Spanish football giants Barcelona, Lionel Messi was never quite able to replicate his inimitable success for Argentina.

The dazzling forward announced his shock retirement from the international game on Monday (June 27) after a penalty shoot-out loss to Chile in the 2016 Copa America final.

"For me the national team is over. I've done all I can, it hurts not to be a champion," the 29-year-old superstar told reporters as Argentina's trophy drought extended to 23 years.

Messi missed from the spot in the shoot-out, which Chile won 4-2 to remain South America's top team for a second straight year.

"It's tough, it's not the time for analysis," he was quoted as saying on the Argentine national team's Twitter feed.

"In the dressing room, I thought that the national team was over, it's not for me."

The news has rocked the football world, given how the next World Cup in Russia in 2018 coincides with the prime of Messi's already illustrious career.

Becoming a Barcelona icon

A pint-sized teenager who needed injections to overcome a growth hormone deficiency as a child, the Rosario native grew to become his generation's most celebrated footballer.

Through relatives in Catalonia, Messi secured a trial with Barcelona in September 2000.

Signing his contract on a paper napkin, the soft-spoken attacker initially suffered from homesickness at the club's famed La Masia youth academy.

He eventually showcased the form we are used to seeing today, developing alongside young talents like Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.

From being an understudy to Brazilian maestro Ronaldinho, he became the headmaster of the senior team, leading Barcelona to eight Spanish league titles, four Champions League crowns and three Fifa Club World Cup triumphs.

Messi's individual awards and records are just as astounding (and irritating for Portuguese rival Cristiano Ronaldo). This includes being Barcelona's all-time top scorer, the youngest player to score 200 goals in La Liga and the recipient of the most Fifa World Player of the Year accolades (five).

Ups and (mostly) downs with Argentina

A young and slightly carefree Messi did win the Fifa World Youth Championship in 2005, and Olympic gold in 2008 with Argentina's Under-23 team.

But the latest loss to Chile at the senior international level may have been too much for one of the game's greats, who suffered his fourth defeat in a major final with Argentina as listed below.

1) 2007 Copa America

In an Argentinian outfit blessed with a plethora of attacking talents like Juan Roman Riquelme, Carlos Tevez and Pablo Aimar, a 20-year-old Messi could not make his mark as they fell to arch-rivals Brazil 0-3 in the final.

La Albiceleste were the only side to win all their games en route to the final, where they were unable to contain the power-and-panache tag team of Julio Baptista and Robinho.

Argentina had last won the continental trophy in 1993, inspired by legendary striker Gabriel Batistuta.

2) 2014 World Cup

When football's biggest prize landed in Brazil, it seemed an opportune moment for Messi to end his nation's suffering.

A potentially career-defining final match-up against the Brazilians was avoided when the hosts were thumped 1-7 by Germany in the semi-finals.

Powered by Messi's four goals, Argentina squeaked into the final where the odds seemed to be in their favour.

Until then, a European nation had never won the World Cup in the Americas. Unfortunately for Messi, he was on the wrong end of a record being broken.

Mario Goetze's extra-time header sealed another runners-up finish for the Argentinians, who boasted a fearsome but ultimately toothless attack of Messi, Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

3) 2015 Copa America

With Neymar's Brazil knocked out in the quarter-finals, the stage was set for Argentina to finally give their fans cause for celebration. A 6-1 thrashing of Paraguay in the semi-finals saw them installed as heavy favourites against hosts Chile in the final.

Yet, the goals dried up when it mattered most.

Chile won its maiden Copa title courtesy of a 4-1 penalty shoot-out victory, with only Messi finding the net for his country from the spot.

4) 2016 Copa America

A year later, and again, the same opponents and the same ending for Argentina.

Messi missed from the penalty mark this time in a tournament that had "special" written all over it.

It was a celebration of Copa's centenary year and marked the first time it was held outside of South America.

Rested in the early stages in the United States, captain Messi gradually rediscovered his club form with some wondrous free-kicks and dribbles as Argentina cruised to the final.

Once more, they lost their spice against Chile at the last hurdle, falling to their third consecutive final defeat in a major tournament.

Was that truly the last time we see Messi in an Argentina jersey?

Either way, fans can only hope for more magic the next time he takes to the field, at least for Barcelona.