Argentina cannot afford to let Lionel Messi retire from international football, insists Oscar Ruggeri.
Messi, who became his country’s all-time highest scorer with his 55th international strike in the semi-final win over the United States, missed a spot-kick as Argentina were beaten 4-2 on penalties by Chile in the Copa America Centenario final on Sunday.
Having also been on the losing side in finals at the 2007 and 2015 Copa America, as well as the 2014 World Cup, the 29-year-old brought his international career to an end in the aftermath of the defeat at MetLife Stadium.
However, Ruggeri, a World Cup winner in 1986 and part of the last Argentina side to win a major trophy at Copa America 1993, hopes Messi’s participation can salvaged in future.
He told Omnisport: “I believe that when he calms down, with his people and his family, it is a decision that he will have to think about carefully
“We, as Argentines, can’t afford ourselves the luxury of letting the best player in the world leave us this way, because he is still in good shape.
“For me he didn’t play a bad tournament, he was playing well. I am speaking to everyone that says it’s not all about competing – yes, it’s about winning. Otherwise, you see what happens.
“These days everyone has an opinion. This week everyone is angry because we lost another chance against Chile, another final. But when everything goes back to normal, we will realise that we can’t afford ourselves the luxury of this guy not playing with us anymore.
“But I believe that we have to give Messi some space, so that he stays with his family and his club and enjoys being there. After a while then we can go and chat with him.
“Messi’s situation must be momentary because of what he has just experienced.”
The failure to end a 23-year wait for senior international silverware came as even more of a shock to Ruggeri given the array of attacking talent coach Gerardo Martino had at his disposal.
“Ahead of the tournament, when I looked at the names of our players, I couldn’t believe it. He had such great names,” he continued.
“The forwards are goalscorers in the countries they play in. Some of the clubs are smaller than others. ‘El Pipa’ [Gonzalo Higuain] plays for Napoli, which is a team that normally finishes in mid-table, except for when [Diego] Maradona was there. Otherwise we wouldn’t even know about Napoli.
“And ‘El Pipa’ was the top goalscorer in the Italian league, even with his defensive style. Then, [Sergio] Aguero, a top goalscorer in English football. They are incredible names that other teams don’t have.”