Lionel Messi is a treasure to behold
Lionel Messi is thirty-five years old and still the best soccer player on the planet. Others are faster, hit the ball harder, and maybe some are scoring more goals or producing more assists—but none are the full package the way Lio is.
When the 2022 Qatar World Cup comes to your television screen later this year, make a point of turning it on whenever Argentina plays—you never know if the game you tune in to will be the one where Messi will make that bit of immortal magic that signifies and certifies one of the three greatest players of all time (after Pele and Maradona in Papa’s view) has just performed for us.
Unfortunately, Messi’s 2022 World Cup is monumental for him and for our sport.
Qatar is important to Messi because he is trying to compete for the top rung of our pantheon of football immortals and he knows that without the cup trophy he will always be thought of as lacking. For Papa, he does not need to win the cup to be in the pantheon as with or without it he will remain the third best ever–behind Pele and Diego Maradona.
Despite all the European media peans to their continental club tournaments, arguing, for instance, that the Champions League supplants the World Cup as the preeminent global exponent of our sport, the quadrennial event is still the measure of our sports’ gods and the crucible within which they are forged. Puskas in 1954, Pele in 1958 & 1970, Garrincha in 1962, Maradona in 1986, Zidane in 1998, Ronaldo in 2002, Cannavaro in 2006, and Modric in 2018, all reached their zenith moments at a World Cup. Messi has had decent cups, but never a great one. Let’s hope he has one in store for us in Qatar.
Qatar is important for us global soccer fans because the sport has done much to accommodate Messi’s legacy, certainly more than it did for his two betters, and, unfortunately, in so doing it made obvious his 2021 Copa America win was a sham. That is no way for someone as good as Lio to go out. He needs to have earned his redemption.
Lio is too good a human being not to know in his bones that no quadrennial cup has ever been played four times in seven years and that there is only one reason for it to have been so with Copa America, the simple fact that CONMEBOL and FIFA wiled it so. The fact is that Argentina lost it in 2015 and 2016 and their archrivals won it going away in 2019 after beating Messi and company 2-0 in the semifinals. That left Lio ultra-deflated and willing to retire from international play and the powers who rule our sport felt it was in their interests to forestall his departure from their top money-making stages. So they gave Messi another, fourth chance. When that chance could not materialize as planned—for Lio to be crowned in Buenos Aires—then alternate and more nefarious plans needed to be made. Thus, the cup which was supposed to take place in Argentina and Colombia, and then potentially Chile, ended up in Brazil.
No objective reviewer can possibly believe that two Covid-19 years after winning the cup going away the nearly unbeatable Canarinha atrophied so much and so fast that a mere 24 months after winning the Copa America it lost it, at home, to an essentially unchanged Albiceleste squad that needed to improve so much in those same short 24 months. No, no one is buying it, and as we found out decades later about the 1978 World Cup, we will eventually find out what happened here. But FIFA knows another sham winner cannot happen again in so short a time period or any shred of legitimacy it holds as the global sports’ ruling entity will be gone. This time around whoever wins this tournament will have had to earn it fair and square or the entire world will witness an unearthly debacle.
One can only hope that come November and December the favorites play to their levels and that the competition allows the likes of Messi to rise to the top and show us how truly beautiful our sport can be when played by its magicians.
Photo: Lionel Messi, Shutterstock Photo ID: 1437545375, by A.PAES