Argentine defender Gabriel Mercado has said that the national team would embrace Lionel Messi with open arms, should he decide to end his self-imposed exile. The Barcelona star was among the main players criticised after Argentina’s failure at the summer World Cup and he has thereafter opted to exclude himself from national team duty for the past three rounds of international fixtures.

Despite this, Argentina general manager Jorge Burruchaga recently cited that he is confident of luring Messi to the national fold next year and Mercado believes the team and the supporters are waiting for the moment when that happens, he said: “We have to respect his decision, he has his reasons for wanting to take time out and if he wants to consider a return at some point, that will be really important. All Argentineans are waiting for him with open arms, so we have to wait and see what will happen.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the country’s performance at the World Cup, Mercado suggested that the team were already trouble during the qualification phase after working under three managers and that situation did not help them at the tournament where they only managed to reach the round of 16, he added: “It was really difficult for Argentina since the qualification with three different coaches. Jorge [Sampaoli] arrived and tried to implement his ideas and we couldn’t do it at the World Cup.”

Argentina have gone through a rebuilding phase since the summer World Cup under Lionel Scaloni, who has opted to give opportunities to upcoming prospects rather than focusing on the experienced personnel. The move has produced positive results for the South America heavyweights and reports indicate that Scaloni could be handed the permanent head coach role until next year’s Copa America. Argentina have finished runners-up in the previous two editions of the competition.