For broad strokes purposes, it’s no surprise to say that Lionel Messi is one of the greatest football players on the planet. Playing with FC Barcelona has turned him into a full-blown legend. But this is not the case with the people of Argentina, where Messi was born.

In fact, the Argentine people have just about had it with him. See, even though Messi is practically unstoppable with Barcelona, many Argentine fans feel like he doesn’t bring that same energy with him to his home country. The stats don’t lie. In comparison to his work with Barcelona, his stats with Argentina are honestly pretty abysmal.

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Messi’s World Cup stats are less than impressive

Including 2022, Messi has played in five World Cups and has only performed well in two of them. In 2010, he did not score a single goal. In 2006 and 2018, he only scored one. He gave fans one of his strongest performances in 2014 with four goals overall, but Argentina ended up losing to Brazil after making it to the finals.

In what is most likely his final World Cup appearance, Messi is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Although Argentina will be happy to blame him if the team does end up losing in the finals, it’s not entirely his fault. There is, as many Argentines believe, a curse hanging over the national team. A curse that Messi needs to break.

Is a decades-old curse to blame?

The Curse of Tilcara has plagued Argentina since 1986, the last time the team won a World Cup. Led by the legendary player Diego Maradona, Argentina’s victory may have been the result of supernatural forces. The team was training in Tilcara, a town in Argentina’s Jujuy province, because that year’s World Cup was set to take place in Mexico.

Tilcara sits 8,000 feet above sea level, and the Argentine team planned to practice at a similar elevation to where they’d be playing in Mexico City. Legend has it that the Argentine team visited Virgin of Copacabana, a local spirit immortalized at the Nuesta Señora del Rosario church.

The team supposedly prayed to the Virgin of Copacabana, asking her for a blessing and for victory, promising they’d return to honor her if they won the World Cup. The thing is, they did end up winning, but they did not return to thank the Virgin of Copacabana for her blessings.

Ever since then, the Argentine team has suffered a series of World Cup losses, one after another. And because Messi is one of the world’s most celebrated players and perhaps one of the only people since Maradona who could feasibly get Argentina to the finals, the pressure was on from the very beginning.

Argentina does not claim Messi even though he claims Argentina

Messi’s performance during this World Cup is inarguably the best of his five appearances. With five goals under his belt, Messi’s performance outshines all of his prior appearances. However, if Argentina doesn’t win, it will all be for naught. In Argentina, Messi will go down as one of the biggest disappointments in the nation’s history.

The people of Argentina aren’t the only ones complaining. Maradona himself has come for Messi on a number of occasions, despite eventually recanting his statements. The late legend trained Messi for a time and was less than impressed with his performance on the Argentine team.

“We shouldn’t deify Messi any longer. He’s Messi when he plays for Barcelona. Messi is Messi when he wears that shirt, and he’s another Messi with Argentina,” he said to Fox Sports in 2018, two years before his death. “He’s a great player, but he’s not a leader. It’s useless trying to make a leader out of a man who goes to the toilet 20 times before a game.”

Harsh words from the nation’s most celebrated player of all time. It’s no wonder the Argentine people are wary of supporting Messi. If his prior work with Argentina didn’t discourage them, it probably didn’t help to hear Maradona agree.

Torn between nations, Messi perseveres

For Messi, who grew up in Europe, acceptance is perhaps more important than victory. “In South America, the fandom and the passion for the sport just is consistently crossing the line. It’s just the way that we were raised,” said Felipe Cárdenas, who writes for The Athletic. “There was a statue in Argentina that was erected in honor of Lionel Messi. That statue was vandalized over the years when he wasn’t winning games.”

“I mean, it’s an incredible turn of events for a player that all he ever wanted was to be loved and successful for his national team,” he added.

Messi deserves to look back on his career with pride. It is impossible to quantify what Messi does for the sport and the people who love it. He will inevitably go down as one of the greatest to ever do it. It’s just a matter of getting Argentina to agree.