Javier Mascherano believes Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi’s short-lived international retirement was born of frustration rather than any deep-seated desire to turn his back on Argentina.
Following June’s Copa America Centenario defeat to Chile on penalties – Argentina’s third loss in a major final in as many years – five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi said he would call time on his Albiceleste career with a record haul of 55 goals in 113 appearances.
But last Friday he reversed his decision and was subsequently named in new boss Edgardo Bauza’s squad for September’s World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay and Venezuela.
“Leo felt very frustrated after the final defeat. We all had our heads in other places. It’s very hard to pick yourself up after three final defeats in a row,” said Mascherano.
“I don’t think Leo said 100 per cent that he was leaving, he was just very frustrated. But after thinking about things I think he realised he still has a lot to bring to the team and the country.
“He’s perhaps not that used to losing because he’s had such a fabulous career, but it’s part of life in sport.
“Obviously there is a new coach, he needs to pick up points in the qualifiers. We’ve got six key games and we really need to get the points. He needs to make sure we get the simple things right and improve the things he thinks we need to.
“We haven’t won a title for so many years but we’ve always been competitive.”
Messi and Mascherano will aim to close out victory for Barcelona in the Supercopa de Espana on Wednesday, having helped Luis Enrique’s men to a 2-0 first-leg win at Sevilla on Sunday.
Barca’s potentially pivotal second goal late on in the contest from Munir El Haddadi was laid on brilliantly by Messi and Mascherano is unsurprised to see the mercurial 29-year-old returning for a new season in prime form.
“It’s the same every year. Leo is a very special player and we say every season that he looks more motivated than the season before,” he explained. “He’s looked motivated for the 10 years he’s been here.
“He sets himself targets like any other player. It’s not more or less than before, just different challenges. He’s come back this year with the ambition of winning not only what we won last year, but to get further in the Champions League.
“I’m happy that he’s happy. That’s the most important thing.”
Mascherano also insisted he is happy at Camp Nou himself, conceding he considered his options during a close-season when Serie A champions Juventus were linked with his services.
“It wasn’t a question of being appreciated, I’ve always felt that. I’ve got no complaints at all about my six years of treatment at the club,” the 32-year-old added.
“But after all this time, you do start thinking if you can continue to play at this level, if it’s worth it, if you can meet the demands of the club.
“At the end of last season I did reconsider a few things, I think people know that. But I’m grateful to the club that they still want me here. I think I can still do things.”