Dubai: However Lionel Messi’s World Cup story ends there is one thing that we know for certain - things will be far less interesting without him when he hangs up his boots.
The Argentina icon is playing his last match for his country on the global stage and no matter what happens in the final against France, his performances in Qatar – where in his six appearances he has been awarded the man of the match accolade four times – have lit up the tournament.
If anyone doubted his abilities at the age of 35, well, he has proved he has still got it and thanks to his brilliance he has cemented his place in the hearts of every football fan.
I have been watching him for over two decades and in that time he has given me - and millions all over the world - so much delight. He has left his mark on every football lover’s life but as his age begins to catch up on him we should savour every minute he spends on the football pitch.
He has scored five goals in the tournament in Qatar and has produced three assists too. It is stats like these that have made him stand out but it is the other incredible things that he does that leaves you breathless.
For instance, when he is trapped by several opposition players and you doubt he will be able to emerge with the ball, but, he does. He has been doing that in his entire career and if many thought he was passed his best well they only need to look at the third goal against Croatia in the semi-final. It was vintage Messi as he turned Josko Gvardiol inside out and left him utterly bewildered in his wake to put the ball on a plate for Julian Alvarez.
Some thought he would be playing more of a withdrawn role, perhaps coming off the bench with 20 minutes remaining to provide a spark. No. He has been playing the full 90 and has been the shining light for the team.
He may have lost that burst of acceleration he had in his prime but his vision, awareness, and decision-making is as sharp as it was 20 years ago. He still plays the game like he is watching it from above and can deliver a killer pass that looks impossible, such is his genius.
In all six matches he has played in Qatar whenever he has got the ball the entire stadium has collectively held its breath waiting for some magic and he has always delivered.
Best player ever
We all know he is a truly extraordinary player and better than most in the modern game. Sure, he will always be compared to Cristiano Ronaldo because their achievements are fairly similar. And even if Messi lifts the World Cup trophy, that debate will likely rage on. It is fun to talk about who is the best player ever because everyone will have a different opinion. For me, nobody will surpass Diego Maradona. He played during a time when defenders kicked lumps out of you and when football pitches were terrible and yet he danced his way past players like they weren’t even there. It is remarkable that the nearest player to him is from the same country, is also left footed, small, and can also dribble past players and totally bamboozle them.
This is why it will be a sad day when Messi retires because there is practically nobody currently in the game that can do what he does. He will still play on at club level for a few more years but the fact this is the last we will see of him on the global stage is truly gut wrenching.