Football star Messi ‘God’s gift’ to Argentina, says president

Buenos Aires (AFP) – Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri said Tuesday Lionel Messi was “God’s gift” to the country and it should take better care of him after he vowed to quit the national team.

“We are lucky, it is one of life’s pleasures, it is a gift from God to have the best player in the world in a footballing country like ours,” Macri said.

“Lionel Messi is the greatest thing we have in Argentina and we must take care of him,” he told a news conference ahead of a cabinet meeting.

Macri was among many Argentines urging Messi not to quit as he vowed to after Argentina’s defeat to Chile in the Copa America Centenario final on Sunday.

The Barcelona superstar, 29, left the field in tears after missing a spot-kick in the final shootout. It was his fourth loss in a major final with Argentina.

He promptly told reporters he was quitting, throwing Argentine football into turmoil ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Messi is widely rated as the best player in the world but has been criticized in Argentina for his failure to win trophies with the national team.

Messi was greeted by fans with signs reading “Don’t go, Leo” when he landed in Buenos Aires on Monday evening.

He and the rest of the team made no comment to the media. Press reports said Messi had gone to his northern home city of Rosario.

Macri telephoned Messi on Monday.

“I spoke to him to congratulate him and tell him that the team played a great tournament,” he said.

Argentine football legend Diego Maradona also called on Messi to reconsider his vow to quit.

Maradona and the rest of his 1986 World Cup-winning squad were set to be honored in the Argentina congress on Tuesday to mark the 30th anniversary of their victory.

One of those ex-players, Jose Brown, said they would make a call for Messi to stay with Argentina.

Buenos Aires city hall said it would unveil a statue of Messi on Tuesday on the city’s sporting Walk of Fame.

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