The football world continues to react to the shock news that Lionel Messi has retired from international football in the aftermath of Argentina's penalty shootout loss to Chile at the Copa America.

As news of Messi's decision filtered around the world, fans of the Argentine wizard filled the internet with messages of love and support, with hashtags such as #StayMessi #DontGoLio #MessiRetires #ComeBackMessi and #NoTeVayasMessi (don't go Messi) springing up worldwide.

Diego Maradona has begged him not to go, while the Argentine federation implored him to change his mind.

"Messi has to stay in the national team... He will go to Russia [for the 2018 World Cup] in form to be world champion," Maradona was quoted as saying by La Nacion newspaper online.


Federation boss Mauricio 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 will be 30 in 2018 and it is hard not seeing one of the sport's greatest not there.
But is there another motive to the retirement bombshell?

There is speculation that the move could be a political protest as much as an emotional decision, opening hope that he could yet change his mind.

While most assumed that Messi's snap retirement was due to the heartache of losing three major finals in three years with Argentina - the 2016 and 2015 Copa America finals, as well as the 2014 World Cup final - many suspect it could have also been influenced by becoming fed up with the shambolic nature of the Argentine Football Association (AFA).

It has also been widely reported that fellow stars, including Javier Mascherano, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria, Lucas Biglia, Ever Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Sergio Aguero, are contemplating joining Messi in solidarity.

The cracks appeared publicly last week when Messi vented his anger on Instagram at the dysfunctional nature of the roof body in his country, with a delayed flight from Houston to New Jersey ahead of the Copa America final proving his final straw.

But the problems are much worse than that, something Messi hinted at in his pre-final press conference when asked about his social media vent.

"Perhaps I made an error in the moment, with the final so close, as we want to think about that. The delay, waiting on a plane again... Now is not the moment. I could respond to that [AFA] statement, but I prefer to leave it there and think about the final.

"We arrived here like this, without resolving what is going on in the AFA, and it never affected us, we're just thinking about the Copa and nothing is going to change that. The one thing, and it's the minimum, is that we can travel well, that we can rest and we can prepare well for the game. What comes from outside doesn't affect us. We can't do anything about that.

"Things have been happening for a long time and none of us said anything. We try to reach our goals. I said it at that point because that's how I felt. The national team, one of the world's best, needs to have the best. I said what I said and that's it. But it's not because of what happened [Thursday], there are so many things that have been stacking up, the time has come that something has to change, not just for for us now, but for what comes next. We have to have the best, as is what happens with all the other national teams.

"I would like to think about the final of the Copa. After we will talk and I'll tell you everything that I think, feel, see and what I was thinking at that moment."

Last week, AFA boss Luis Segura was indicted with six executives and three former presidential cabinet heads, with speculation that television money and riches from lucrative friendly matches was being pocketed or misused by executives and politicans. The AFA has been rudderless since predecessor Julio Grondona died in 2014 after 35 years in charge with unfettered power. In 2015, he was implicated into an investigation about multi-million dollar bribes relating to television rights.

In 2015, an attempt to replace him ended in farcical circumstances when anti-corruption reformist Marcelo Tinelli and interim-president Segura tried to split 76 votes - despite there only being 75 eligible voters!

On Friday, FIFA took control of Argentina's federation due to the corruption crisis as another set of elections were postponed.

Amidst this chaos, there remains uncertainty over the upcoming structure of the country's upcoming domestic league season too.

With all of this in mind, it's possible that Messi's premature retirement - along with that of several of his international teammates - is for political, rather than sporting reasons, forming a 'shape up or I'm off' ultimatum from the best player in the world and some of his peers.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the AFA, many still believe that they will once again see Messi in an Argentina shirt, especially with a World Cup only two years away.

However, Spanish football expert Guillem Balague told Sky Sports he thinks the decision is more pragmatic, with Messi simply making a choice between club and country.

"Messi is 29, and you saw at the end of the season after the international break, Barcelona lost three out of four games and everyone seemed to be affected by it at the key part of the season," Balague told Sky Sports.

"When they faced Atletico Madrid they just didn't have the legs. At some point of your career you have to choose."

Meanwhile, the sense of shock has continued since Messi's bombshell.

Messi returned Monday to Argentina, but has not spoken publicly. 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 at age 13, has often faced tough criticism in Argentina because he has failed to deliver the country a major title - in contrast to his repeated success at Barcelona. He is often compared unfavorably to Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title.

Macri said he didn't understand the criticism of Messi.

"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 Argentine club Boca Juniors.

Macri's lobbying could be helped by a gathering planned 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.

In another show of support, some members of Argentina's 1986 World Cup team posed for a photograph that contained a written plea: "Don't Go Lio." Maradona, the biggest star on that team, was not in the photo.

It also generated surprise and sympathy in the Spanish press for a superstar who has won everything with club side Barcelona but nothing with his country.

"Leo Mexit" was the main headline on the website of sports daily Marca. "The curse of Argentina and Messi has no end. Messi was distraught after missing a spot-kick as Chile snatched victory in a penalty shootout in New Jersey - Messi's fourth straight defeat in a major final while representing Argentina," Marca wrote.

"There is no explanation or advice possible, we know very well that Leo is the X factor of this team. His trophy cabinet is full with Barcelona, but the one he reserves for Argentina is empty, and it's not for lack of trying."

"Messi was clear, Argentina will never be Barca," wrote the deputy director of sport, Lluis Mascaro, in an editorial.

"For his club, Messi has won everything, and had everything he needed to succeed ... (in Argentina) he could never benefit from a football which protected him and allowed him to play at his best level. At Barca and in Barcelona, Messi is God. But not in Argentina," continued Mascaro.

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after losing to Chile in penalty kicks during the Copa America final. Photo / AP
Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after losing to Chile in penalty kicks during the Copa America final. Photo / AP

The 29-year-old forward has won 24 titles since joining Barcelona in 2004 including eight Liga crowns and four Champions League trophies with Barcelona.

"Leo will not return to the national team, he's reached a point where he has the impression that everything is his fault," wrote journalist Cristina Cubero in El Mundo Deportivo.

According to Cubero, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner has always been hampered by comparisons with Diego Maradona.

"Maradona gave Argentina what Leo Messi could never give on the pitch, even being the best footballer in the world. And Leo said 'enough'. No more tears, no more suffering and guilt," she wrote.

"The latest failure of Argentina in the Copa America was the final straw for Messi. He quits Argentina to focus in what really makes him happy: playing in Barcelona."

If Messi is in fact done with international football, his final kick for Argentina will have been a missed penalty, and it is images such as this that have ignited debate about Messi's legacy in the wake of his retirement.

Maybe Messi will don the sky blue and white again, perhaps leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 2018, maybe he won't, but for the moment, though, it appears his decision to retire is final.

The world certainly hopes it isn't.