Messi, you completed my football story

Mess is class. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

Diego, Zidane, etc, tried to win it above 30. They failed. But it didn't hurt much. They were seeking a repeat, unlike you. At 35, defeat would have shredded your heart, the most. After raising hopes of a nation and a generation, on what seems your realistic last try, you can’t afford to falter. Victory is for all. But loss would have been especially yours.

Dear Captain Marvel, thanks for completing my football story. Some doubted your leadership and potential, but in Qatar you silenced them, though some still murmur, just because they are human.

Some say this is the best Messi they have ever seen. But memories are just short.

Did they see your crispy free-kicks that leave walls and keepers fools?

Did they see you bouncing the ball off opposition shins and sprint goal-ward?

Did they see you fell forests of opposition defenses and slot home?

Did they see you endure legs and elbows and still prevail, not once but ten times in a match?

Did they see you score three, four, five in a game?

Well, this was the best of you in that blue-and-white shirt, moreover on the grandest of stages.

And Heaven, unlike ever, was with you.

And like Drury screamed, you shook hands with paradise.

At some point, every moment became record-breaking. Batistuta, Pele, and Ronaldo, all surrendered. You hadn’t scored in World Cup knockouts. Then you scored at all stages. A world record. You hadn’t scored twice in a World Cup game. You did in the final.

With 26 goals (13 World Cup, 13 Copa América), you overtook Ronaldo (25) as the most prolific South American at both competitions. You also piped Lothar Matthäus with your 26 caps.

There are fans. But there’s Antonia Farias, that lady we mistook for Mama Messi when she tapped your back and gave you a warm hug after the final.

She’s a team chef. For ten years she’s travelled with you, made you special meals. Witnessed the gloom on countless moments, like the 6-1 defeat in Bolivia in 2009. And the Copa America boom last year at the Maracana. And now in Lusail.

Then there’s Yohana Fucks, the Argentine teacher. Before that 3-0 semi-final vs. Croatia, she tweeted: “I admire you Captain in all your facets. Today play and enjoy what you love so much that we enjoy seeing you display magic…”

But that emotional letter she wrote to persuade you from your sentimental retirement in 2016, was special. I thought about it throughout Qatar.

How I wish she touches and kisses that trophy. It’s your trophy, Argentina’s trophy, her trophy.

I saw Kempes replaying the 1978 memories of victory; Gaucho, the 2002 memories plus some 2006, when Brazil failed at the quarters, as you did on your World Cup debut. Then I remembered Rivaldo’s Instagram post. "No words for you Leo Messi, you already deserved to be world champion before, but God knows all things and will crown you this Sunday.”

I dreamt about you twice before the final. In a Friday evening nap, you scored the winner from a scrambled free-kick with your right leg. And see, on Sunday, your right netted a scrambled third in Extra-Time, your seventh goal, your 13th. If it’s your last, what a coincidence that your weaker right leg scored your first goal in Germany 2006!

But Kylian wanted to kill your spirit, steal your show. And boy did you say: No. And your entire army followed. Each gave a body and a half. It was now or never. “We win or they lose.”

The boy from Madeira will envy you, forever. He had his Euro laugh in Paris 2016, two weeks after you faltered and frowned in the Copa America final. You threatened to quit. You envied him. Six years later, it’s your turn to laugh, his to frown. That’s life.

You scored seven of Argentina’s 15. Spain won it with eight in 2010. But had you lost the final, your goals and influence would have counted less.

Diego, Zidane, etc, tried to win it above 30. They failed. But it didn't hurt much. They were seeking a repeat, unlike you.

At 35, defeat would have shredded your heart, the most. After raising hopes of a nation and a generation, on what seems your realistic last try, you can’t afford to falter. Victory is for all. But loss would have been especially yours.

In 1986, Diego, just 26, Argentina couldn't imagine that the boy born in Rosario, a year later, would wait until he’s 35 to give the nation its third World Cup.

Diego tried twice. Failed. Ortega, Batistuta, Crespo, Cambiasso, Zanetti, Aimar, Ayala, Veron, Milito, Higuain, Tevez, Aguero, Di Maria, failed. But the biggest culprit was you, the legit heir to the Diego throne.

Diego dragged his team to the final in '86. But over-tackled, over-marked, he needed Luis Brown, Valdano, Burruchaga to stop Germany 3-2 in the final.

But when you needed the same support against Germany in the 2014 final, Higuaín, Palacios, betrayed you. In 2006 and 2010, coaches,including Diego, erred.

We imagined the impossible: what if Suarez played for Argentina alongside Messi?

You went to Europe twice, Africa, South America, but it had to be Asia.

Historic stadiums awaited your crowning moment: Berlin, FNB Johannesburg, Maracana, Luzhniki. Yet it had to be Lusail, ironically, where you first fell to the Saudis.

But finally, alongside Di Maria, you got winning partners. Mac Allister, Romero, Acuna, Molina, Montiel, Fernandez, and Alvarez, born six years before your World Cup debut.

They complemented you well. Covered yards as you walked and screened. Knew when and how you run to create space in opposition territory. Knew where to be when you ran, what you would do after fooling your markers. Above all, unlike Lautaro, they knew how to convert.

No wonder, the team scored at least twice a match, except one (when VAR killed three). Then you got Martinez, the playful and focused giant. His glove prints are all over that trophy. Intimidated opponents, made super decisive saves in and outside regulation time. That he conceded eight in seven somehow blurs the picture.

The manager, Scaloni, your namesake and fellow Rosarian, also deserves huge credit. He believed in you, knew how to work with you. 

Some wished the trophy for you or the boy from Madeira, “for what they’ve done for this game.” Fair enough. But I wished it only for you. Only you.

My favourite Azzuri didn’t appear in Qatar. But even if they did, I would have rooted for you. I was that radical.

When you survived the Dutch scare, I knew your spirit was stronger, ready for sterner tests.

You had grit, finesse, belief and luck. Some of those penalties weren't the most obvious. But you buried them, except one, beautifully. And marched on. To your dream.

You revenged on Croatia and France—the 2018 finalists—who humiliated you in Russia. Germany too deserved a dose but quit quite early.

Finally, you loved every bit of the moment. Now the Golden Ball, your second, meant everything because it fetched the collective ultimate prize. You would trade your seven Ballon d'Ors for the World Cup. Now every trophy in your overwhelmed cabinet means a lot.

Club-mates like Zambrotta came with the World Cup in 2006, Iniesta, Xavi, Puyol, Pique, Valdez in 2010. You nearly touched it in 2014, then Dembele got it in 2018. But finally, you got it. In imperious form.

You’ve left the room of Di Stefano, Cruyff, Puskas, Zlatan, Figo,  Seedorf, Lewandowski, greats who never touched it. You’ll now dine with Cannavaro, Del Piero, Totti, Buffon, who won it above 30.

You left it too late. But it’s perfect timing. You won’t be among the champions who were humiliated in their title defences.

My neighbour Joshua was just two when you beat Nigeria to the U-20 World Cup in 2005. He relished a World Cup during school holidays. He watched every Messi match, analysed, argued, screamed, smiled. He dashed out of his sitting room when Di Maria netted in the final, panicked when Mbappe equalised. “But Messi is in the moods,” he believed. He was dying to see his greatest player hoist the greatest accolade.

You completed his story; my story. Otherwise, how could we tell our grandchildren that the best footballer we have ever seen (I don't expect another in 50 years) won everything but the World Cup, the greatest of all honours?

"My students need to understand that the noblest heroes, be they doctors, soldiers, teachers or football players, are those who give the best of themselves for the good of others, even knowing that nobody will value them more for that, knowing that if they do manage a triumph it will belong to everyone while if they fail it will be their failure alone. Even so they keep trying. But above all, they have heroism and courage, when they fight and overcome losses with bravery and integrity, even with the whole universe saying we will never make it.

"And one day they will enjoy the greatest victory: they will feel happy being themselves, with the demons they had to face in order to make it no longer an issue,” Yohana Fucks, the Argentine teacher, wrote to you when you wanted to quit at 29.

“Everybody talks about balls, I believe in the strength of your heart."

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