'Argentine football is a bloodbath' - Messi leaving Barcelona not the start of a fairy tale homecoming

Lionel Messi Rosario Barcelona GFX
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The President of Argentina has lent his voice to the campaign to repatriate the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, but such a move looks extremely unlikely

Given the global impact of Lionel Messi's admission that he wishes to leave Barcelona, it was only a matter of time before the affair became a subject of state importance in the superstar's native Argentina.

While the battle continues against Covid-19, President Alberto Fernandez this week found time to express his opinion on his compatriot's supposedly imminent departure from Camp Nou.

Unsurprisingly, the politician believes that for the unhappy Messi, there is no place like home.

“You are in all of our hearts,” Alberto told Leo during an interview held on Saturday with C5N . “We have never been able to see you play in our lands, give us the pleasure of coming to finish your career at Newell's, your club.

"If Messi doesn't retire at Barcelona he should do so at Newell's, just like Marcelo Bielsa.”

Fernandez, a lifelong fan of Diego Maradona's boyhood club, Argentinos Juniors, is not the first Argentine head of state to make such a request to the nation's prodigal footballing son. “I've been asking how we are doing with the foreign currency reserves, to see if we could bring him,” he joked.

Back in 2016 his predecessor, Mauricio Macri, implored Messi to reconsider his decision to retire from international football in the wake of Copa America final defeat, while almost simultaneously Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta unveiled a statue of the No.10 in the city.

On Friday, Messi's hometown Rosario played host to a convoy of Newell's fans who drove through town to the landmark Flag Monument in support of this much-desired homecoming.

But while Leo took up a second chance to shine with Argentina, Fernandez and the Newell's faithful's request appears much more unlikely.


Fernando Signorini, who trained Messi as fitness coach to Maradona during his ill-fated spell on the Argentina bench, perhaps sums up most eloquently what is keeping the 33-year-old - financial considerations aside - from returning. “What is happening here in Argentina happens in very few parts of the world,” he explained to La Deportiva in July.

“Football has turned into a bloodbath due to the crime in stadiums, the barras (organised hooligan groups), grounds where you go for a bath and the power or hot water is turned off.”

Messi's cousin Maxi Biancucchi also admitted that he was unlikely to return home, telling Ataque Futbolero: “It is my dream, but it looks difficult. Imagine Messi is playing the derby [against hated rivals Rosario Central], the kids have to go to school... it is hell.”

Former international team-mate Maxi Rodriguez can attest to the fever that descends on the Santa Fe city in derby week. The ex-Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Argentina star, still playing at Newell's in his third spell at the club at the age of 39, found his family literally in the firing line prior to past Clasicos Rosarinos.

On July 23, the Rosario home of Rodriguez's grandmother was daubed with the menacing message: “The derby or bullets” on the morning of Newell's' latest clash with Central. The Lepra went down 1-0, and two months later, prior to another derby, the pledge was fulfilled; three 9mm bullets were fired into her front door.

“I hope nothing happens, everything has a limit,” the exasperated veteran told La Nacion ahead of a 2016 derby which, thankfully, saw no repeat of those horrifying threats. “I should have f*cked off a while ago.

“Everything has gotten out of hand. The folklore in this city was wonderful, but here all lines have been crossed. It is not just in sport, it hurts us as a society. I see it every day. With the crime in the streets, power cuts... People are just giving up.”

Maxi Rodriguez Lionel Messi Newell

In recent years the battle for control of the Newell's barra and the wealth and power that comes with that dominion has been one of the fiercest in the country, leaving several hooligans dead, wounded or imprisoned. 

One of the most infamous cases involves ex-'capo' Diego Ochoa, currently serving an 11-year sentence for instigating the 2010 murder of predecessor Roberto Caminos and who almost lost his life that same year after being assaulted and stabbed in the stands during a match against Independiente.

That conflict, however, is just a small part of the crime wave that has driven many Rosarinos to desperation.

As one of the nation's principal port cities, Rosario, nicknamed the Argentine Chicago, has long been a destination for goods both legal and otherwise. In the last decade though, violence led by competing drug trafficking gangs and crime against persons and property has reached epidemic levels.

More than 100 murders had been recorded in 2020 by the start of August. That number would be far higher had it not been for the severe quarantine measures introduced in March – when the city had already reached 45 homicides – to combat coronavirus.

Messi's boyhood neighbourhood of La Bajada resembles a fortified compound, as residents have responded to the crime wave by reinforcing doors and barring every window that looks out to the street. “I suffer with Argentina because of what is happening, above all due to the crime because I think of coming back to Rosario,” Leo told La Cornisa in 2018.

“It worries me that you can get killed [to steal] a motorbike, a watch or a bicycle.”


Messi has been consistent throughout the past few years in stating that any move he makes would take into account first and foremost his family, in particular his three young sons. But in purely footballing matters there is little in Argentina that would encourage him to turn his back on Manchester City or Barcelona in order to return.

Not a single match has been played anywhere in the country since the coronavirus pandemic struck in March, and the Argentine FA is still yet to confirm either the starting date or format of the coming season.

Some sort of transitional tournament is expected to take place, with the 24 top-flight teams (since relegation was scrapped last term) split into several groups and competing for the chance to advance to a play-off competition.

It is the Copa Libertadores, which does not involve Newell's, that remains the biggest priority; but even there, with South America now the worst-affected region in the world from Covid-19 and with no sign that cases are even stabilising, there is huge doubt over whether the competition will even get off the ground.

Boca Juniors, for example, are scheduled to restart their campaign in just over two weeks away to Paraguay's Libertad; a commitment that appears a tall order given that on Monday, 14 of the Xeneize squad tested positive for the virus and coach Miguel Angel Russo was forced to retire from training due to his past medical issues.

Newell's nevertheless continue to dream about repatriating their former youth team wizard, celebrating President Fernandez's plea.

“It gives great pride to Newell's that the president wants the same as us,” club chief Eduardo Bermudez signalled, “that the best player in the world, who is a Newell's fan, can play in our club.”

It would of course be the coup of the century for the Lepra, a transfer on a par with Maradona's sensational signing in 1993 following his exit from Sevilla, the realisation of a dream that has obsessed the club ever since their former wonderkid began to shine at Camp Nou as a teenager.

Messi might yet pull on the red and black of his boyhood idols, but it will not be in 2020. The transfer would obviously be an enormous boost for Newell's, Rosario and Argentine football as a whole.

Those in charge, however, must first focus on solving their own serious problems before dreaming of seeing the little No.10 back where it all began.