The ink on the legacy will take time to dry, it is not every day that we are bequeathed a timeless largesse. On a night when football won, Leo Messi won bigger. He showed us how the beautiful game was magic but all the tricks had been in his hand, he was the magician.
Going into the final, the writing was on the wall and now the debate is closed, once and forever. “World Champions! I dreamed it so many times, I wanted it so much that I still haven’t fallen, I can’t believe it,” posted Messi after the historic win.
It was a dream that was manifested with an obsession by Messi’s legion of fans, evoking the kind of unadulterated love unlike for any in the modern era.
By winning the ultimate prize Messi has also come out of the great Maradona’s shadow, a comparison that has until now dodged an all-out grasp for greatness by being relegated as a player who achieved more for his previous club Barcelona than for his country, Argentina.
Messi was determined to change that, the 35-year-old knew in his fifth and final world cup that age was not on his side but the crown was still his for the taking. The legs were not of an ageing warhorse, the dribbles were as passionate and if not more determined as they were at the prime of his youth.
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Goat debate settled
The opening loss to Saudi Arabia is now a footnote in the pages of football history, Argentina’s victory is sweeter for that. Seven strikes in the tournament including two in the final, Messi mesmerised, but more than that he owned the stage of his greatest achievement.
Messi’s ability to be a game changer has never been in doubt but the art of pulling something new out of the hat is the mark of his class, even as his assist has a thinking Messi written all over it.
Former Spanish player Carles Puyol once described him as being ‘well above anything else I have ever seen. He is an alien.’ It is this touch -- gentle at times, ruthless on occasion but passionate at all times that remained on loop in the last month, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner never lost sight of the cup.
The love for Messi is not easy to explain or rationalise, what makes a player invoke such universal feelings of undiluted emotions?
Is it what he represents- his doggedness to not give possession of what he believes belongs to him or is it the mastery to entertain generations of fans that are miserly with sharing the space on the mantle?
Pele, Maradona, Johan Cruyff - there are not too many members of an elite club where the air is so rarefied that even fingers on one hand are too many.
It is also once in a lifetime that a player comes and takes the young and the old together into his fold, becoming the focal point for their love and respect. Messi showed how he played a dream, the dream in itself was never the master.
Messi's tryst with destiny
The old order changeth, slowly but definitively, yielding place to new, France’s Kylian Mbappe is knocking hard on leaving his own footprints on the sands of the future but for now Messi says he wants to “keep experiencing a few more matches as world champion.”
Who are we to grudge a man who has shared his art generously and who first walked on a football field at the age of four?
For long Messi was defined more by his stature at FC Barcelona which was called out by many simply as Messi’s Barcelona -- he joined there at 13 but was too short in height and received hormone therapy, going on to make his debut for the club at the age of 17.
Incidentally, such was the impression that he made even at that young age that his contract was offered on a paper napkin.
The rest is the stuff of legends, the diminutive player’s stature in world football is now the tallest, he has crossed the line.
Yet, his first major international title for Argentina only came last year when the country won the Copa America in 2021 by defeating Brazil in the final. Before that Messi came close in 2014 when Argentina lost to Germany in the world cup final.
Former Argentina player Javier Mascherano once said of Messi, ‘Although he may not be human, it’s good that Messi still thinks he is.’ The shoulders will feel light, it was not just the burden of a country that was on Messi, he had to justify a love so pure.
As his fans, we are no longer envious of those who speak fondly about being part of an era where Pele’s sorcery flowed or Maradona’s gift captivated. We saw a magical night where Messi made us fall under his spell all over again.
But more than anything he completed football.