Published On: Wed, Jun 29th, 2016

Tough love: psychology of Argentina’s Messi relationship

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Buenos Aires (AFP) – Like neurotic parents, Argentines swung from criticism to unconditional love for their star footballer Lionel Messi this week, providing the soccer-mad nation’s many therapists with rich material for psychoanalysis.

Boys play next to a sculpture of Argentina's Lionel Messi, after it was unveiled by Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta on June 28, 2016

Boys play next to a sculpture of Argentina’s Lionel Messi, after it was unveiled by Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta on June 28, 2016

Fans’ frustration at the superstar’s missed penalty in Sunday’s defeat to Chile in the Copa America Centenario soon gave way to panic as he vowed to quit the national team ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

As fans online pleaded “Leo, don’t go,” psychologists, neurologists and philosophers appeared on chat shows and published newspaper columns to analyze the hero’s motivations and help the nation cope.

To judge by the past criticism Messi has received, having a player widely rated as the best in the world is not enough for Argentines.

They also want him to win — as Diego Maradona did at the World Cup in 1986.

Now they have started to ask themselves whether they are too demanding.

President Mauricio Macri said Tuesday that Lionel Messi was “God’s gift” to the country and it should “take care of him.”

One school teacher became a minor celebrity when she sent an open letter to the player which was read out on television.

“Please don’t give up,” wrote the teacher, Yohana Fucks — a not-uncommon surname in Argentina.

“Don’t make people think that all we care about in this country is winning and being first.”

– Football idolatry –

Andres Rascovsky, former president of the Argentine Psychoanalytical Association, links the country’s intense sporting passions to its dirty politics.

Argentina's Lionel Messi leaves the field after being defeated by Chile in the penalty shoot-out of the Copa America Centenario final in East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States, on June 26, 2016

Argentina’s Lionel Messi leaves the field after being defeated by Chile in the penalty shoot-out of the Copa America Centenario final in East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States, on June 26, 2016

“Argentines need idols,” he said.

That desire stems from “the humiliation and denigration of the masses by the politicians,” Rascovsky added.

“That generates a need for them to redeem themselves through sporting heroes like Maradona or Messi.”

The provocative extrovert Maradona “is more identified with transgression and omnipotence,” Rascovsky said.

That exuberant spirit is epitomized by what Maradona called his “Hand of God” goal against England at the 1986 World Cup.

“The Hand of God was a goal of transgression, a false goal scored with the hand which in a spirit of idolatry was elevated to the status of the divine,” Rascovsky said.

The nation’s relationship with Messi is different, however.

“A lack of decent values causes a lot of Argentines to identify with the transgressive omnipotence of Maradona,” said Rascovsky.

“On the other hand, Messi comes across as a more modest, normal personality.”

Two women hold signs asking Lionel Messi no to quit, while waiting for the arrival of Argentina's football team from the Copa America Centenario on June 27, 2016 in Buenos Aires

Two women hold signs asking Lionel Messi no to quit, while waiting for the arrival of Argentina’s football team from the Copa America Centenario on June 27, 2016 in Buenos Aires

Maradona himself recently accused Messi of having “no personality.” But he too threw his support behind Messi after he vowed to quit, urging him to stay.

“I knew him when he was a kid,” said Enrique Dominguez, who coached the young Messi at Newell Old Boys football club.

“He is very sensitive though his face doesn’t always show it.

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