After back-to-back Copa América final defeats and last year’s outburst that prompted a CONMEBOL suspension Lionel Messi would be forgiven for not having the most positive outlook towards South America’s premier competition. However, the Argentina captain was raring to go in 2020 with Lionel Scaloni looking to have turned a corner towards the end of last year.
The Covid-19 outbreak around the globe called a halt on almost all football and a second Copa América in two years scheduled to take place next month was one of those tournaments pushed back until 2021.
“Pushing back the Copa América was a huge disappointment, but of course it was to be expected and was the reasonable thing to do,” Messi told Adidas.
“The Copa was going to be a big occasion for me this year, and I was extremely excited to compete in it again. It hit me hard when I learned it would be postponed, but I completely understood.
“We can’t dwell on what we’re leaving behind this year. It’s better to look to the future. To getting back to the daily training routine, to seeing teammates, to playing the first games. I’m sure it will be strange at first, but I’m very eager to start competing again!”
Argentina’s 2019 Copa América ended in a somewhat controversial semi-final defeat to eventual winners Brazil and although Messi was sent off in the playoff win over Chile, La Albiceleste then put together a seven-game unbeaten run to end the year.
With March’s World Cup qualifiers postponed Messi and his international teammates haven’t been able to continue that streak this year but with European domestic football returning and La Liga scheduled to restart shortly, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner will be back in action.
“There is talk of finishing out the Spanish league’s season without spectators, which brings a whole set of challenges. The group preparation is the same as for any other game. But individually each person needs to prepare and visualize playing without fans, because it’s very strange. I had to do it for a home game, and it was downright spooky. But it’s normal that the league would resume this way after everything we’ve been going through. With all that’s happening in the world, it’s perfectly understandable.”
Barcelona resume the season two points clear of rivals Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and still have a Champions League last 16 tie against Napoli to complete.
“When we start playing again, it will be like starting from scratch. We’ll have some time to get ready before the league starts up, and we’ll also get back key players on our team who were injured. Technically it will still be the same season, but I think every team and player will feel it’s different.”
Spain was hugely impacted by the pandemic but with football returning the hope is that like much of Europe they are now over the worst.
“I don’t think anyone could have seen something like this coming. Some people warned that worldwide pandemics could happen from time to time. But I really never could have imagined it would unfold like it did, or the enormous impact it’s having on virtually the entire world,” Messi explained.
“Living or working with so much uncertainty is never easy, especially when faced with a situation as unheard-of as this one.
“For any soccer player, it’s crucial to stay focused when you hit the field. Some say this mental strength is 40, 50, or even 60% of our sport. I suppose it also depends on each specific player. But I do think it’s very important, and I see a growing focus on this sort of preparation in the world of professional sports.”
Images from Barcelona training would suggest Messi has lost none of his hunger and is ready to go. Argentina will hope to see their captain in the albiceleste again soon too.