Argentina great Diego Maradona has urged his compatriots to leave Lionel Messi alone in the wake of his decision to retire from international football.
Messi called it quits on the international scene after Argentina lost a third final in three years, going down to Chile 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out for the Copa America Centenario last Sunday.
It was the fourth time Messi has suffered a defeat the final of a major tournament, adding to the heartbreak of the 2007 and 2015 editions of the Copa, as well as the 2014 World Cup decider against Germany.
The decision brought many in the South American nation to tears, with several high-profile figures – including the country’s president Mauricio Macri – pleading with Messi to reconsider.
However Maradona – who won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986 – insists people should just leave Messi alone for the time being.
“Messi is telling us to stop busting his balls,” Maradona said in an interview with La Red on Wednesday.
“With this Messi has told us ‘I am going on holidays, leave me alone and when you call me, I’ll think about it. I don’t want to talk about this anymore’. I think it’s great.
“These days everyone is a coach, everyone is a penalty-taker. No, it’s not like this.
“I see that people are meeting to talk about the subject, and I hear people who in their life have kicked one f**king ball and now they dare talk about football.
“Now when I see people talk about it, I change [the channel]. That’s it, it’s happened. We can’t go back.
“We have to construct a unified idea with Messi, but if he says no then we still have to put out a team on the pitch.”