Argentina legend Diego Maradona is urging his countrymen to leave Lionel Messi alone after Messi's decision to retire from the national team following their loss to Chile in the Copa America final.
In an interview on La Red radio, Maradona also ridiculed people who have criticised Messi for missing his shot as Chile won a penalty shootout to take the title. Maradona, who led Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup, questioned those who find fault with a football star's play "without ever having touched a ball."
Despite Argentina's loss, Maradona said, "I consider Messi a winner."
Although he earlier joined in the chorus of Argentines calling on Messi to stay with the national squad, Maradona toned that down on Wednesday.
"Let's let Messi have his holidays," he said. "From now on we have to build a unified idea, and if Messi says, 'I don't want more,' we will have to present another team."
Maradona criticised the Argentine Football Association, whose national team haven't won a major title since the Copa America tournament in 1993.
"We must have done something wrong because the AFA is the way it is," he said. "Argentine football is how it is, and we will be paying for it."
Illustrating his dim view of the current national team, Maradona confirmed the authenticity of a leaked WhatsApp audio in which he implies to his 1986 teammates that their 1986 World Cup-winning squad was better than Messi's.
"We didn't go to play against Chile. We went and beat Germany," he said. "You know what I mean about the difference between one team and the other?"
Messi touched off an uproar in Argentina with his abrupt resignation from the national team after Sunday's game with Chile.
He is the national team's career leading scorer with 55 goals in 113 international appearances, but he has never led Argentina to a major title, losing championship matches to Brazil in the 2007 Copa America, Germany in the 2014 World Cup and Chile in the 2015 and 2016 Copa America.
"I tried my hardest," Messi said on Sunday. "It's been four finals, and I was not able to win.
"I tried everything possible. It hurts me more than anyone, but it is evident that this is not for me. I want more than anyone to win a title with the national team, but unfortunately, it did not happen."