The last time Argentina went to a World Cup without Lionel Messi, Mauricio Pochettino was in defence and Diego Simeone patrolled the midfield. David Seaman kept a clean sheet for England as the South American giants crashed out of the group stage.
Suffice it to say, it was an awful long time ago.
Argentina may be plunged back into this bleak realm of Messi-lessness by the time the 2026 World Cup rolls around. The nation’s talisman will turn 39 during the tournament and has repeatedly expressed doubts about his involvement.
However, with the announcement of a move to MLS in the summer of 2023, there was renewed hope that Messi could stick around long enough to feature at the World Cup hosted in North America. Is it misplaced?
What has Lionel Messi said about the 2026 World Cup?
Messi doesn’t speak often and what little he says about his future with the national team cannot always be taken at face value. The Argentine skipper retired from international football in 2016 and 2018, only to be lured back into the famous blue and white stripes.
Ahead of the 2022 global jamboree in Qatar, Messi described the tournament as “my last World Cup, surely, yes”.
However, in February 2023, high on the buzz of Argentina’s first World Cup win in his lifetime, Messi nudged the door of possibility open. “I love playing soccer, I love what I do and while I am feeling well and feel I am fit and continue to enjoy it, I will do it. But it seems to be too much until the next World Cup,” he told the Argentine newspaper Ole. “I have to see where my career goes, what I will do. It depends on many things.”
Messi all but confirmed his involvement in the 2024 Copa America, as Argentina attempt to defend their continental crown in the USA. “I will stay a little longer,” the freshly-crowned world champion promised. “I have to enjoy this.”
Yet, by June 2023, Messi’s mind had changed again. “I think not. This was my last World Cup,” Messi told Titan Sports before Argentina’s friendly against Australia in Beijing. “I’ll see how things go but in principle, I won’t go to the next World Cup.”
What has Lionel Scaloni said about Messi in the 2026 World Cup?
Scaloni has already persuaded Messi to come out of international retirement once. Inheriting the team – initially on a temporary basis – after the dire 2018 World Cup, Scaloni built the foundations for Messi return. In six friendlies without the number ten, Argentina recorded five clean sheets and four wins, establishing a younger core which tempted Messi back in 2019.
In the wake of Messi’s retirement in 2016, Scaloni wasn’t part of the national team staff so took to Twitter to plead: “Don’t go Lio.”
Before the tournament in Qatar kicked off, Scaloni was hopeful of Messi’s future involvement. “If we take care of him and carry him as we have to,” Scaloni said. “There is the possibility of more games because the world of football asks for it.”
After the 2022 final, the emotional manager insisted: “Messi should have a place in the next World Cup. If he wants to continue playing, the ’10’ [shirt] will always be his.”
As long as Scaloni is at the helm, Messi will have a spot in Argentina’s World Cup squad.