Circa 2007, I remember travelling to Barcelona, and Messi was just 3-4 years into his football career back then. The diminutive genius had already emerged as a super star at Barcelona. Even though its was his nascent years on the big stage, the sings of his extraordinary were already visible.
I had bought the red & dark blue striped Messi jersey. That was the time when Messi used to wear #19 - he had not yet graduated to the hallowed #10 jersey.
Over the years, Messi anchored Blaugrana to win an astounding 10 La Liga titles, and made the club a formidable unit in Spanish football. His astute partnership with Pep Guardiola as manager saw Barcelona win four consecutive La Liga tiles between 2008-12 and took Barcelona to another level.
Messi played a crucial role in Barcelona winning four UEFA Champions League titles as well, thereby expanding their dominance across Europe, and not only Spanish football. By this time, Messi was synonymous with the Catalan outfit.
Messi won seven Ballon D’or awards, which is a world record. This is a recognition for the Footballer of the Year across all players actively representing European Clubs. To win this prestigious award seven times in 17-18 years is absolutely brilliant, and demonstrates that class is permanent.
But somehow while Messi dominated Spanish & European football while representing Barcelona, he could not re-create the same magic while representing the white & light blue stripes of Argentina.
While some critics alleged that his loyalty is only towards the big bucks that his clubs has to offer, the more ardent fans defended him by saying that he’s grown up in the Tiki Taka style of play at Barca, and hence his game is not naturally suited for scenarios where players around him don’t feed on / off him.
While I’m an Argentina fan for life, and I have truly admired Messi’s magic & records over the years, I always took a more pragmatic stance - how could someone be termed as GOAT without winning a Copa America and a World Cup title.
As Messi came to the fag end of his illustrious career, people were fast losing hope that he could perhaps end his career as the best club footballer, but someone who could never anchor his national team to lift the coveted continental and world trophies.
But legends are legends for a reason - when they see a challenge in front of them, they tend to raise their game. Messi broke this career long jinx by anchoring Argentina to win the Copa America title in 2021 and the FIFA World Cup in 2022. What champion stuff to tick the only 2 pending boxes in back-to-back years!
Now there’s nothing left for Messi to conquer in world football, and rightly so, he had announced proactively that this will be his last World Cup.
Almost like the universe aligned to bid farewell to this Messi-merising footballer. This World Cup was indeed so much more about Messi than Argentina, and this could be seen in tears of happiness amongst billions of fans worldwide.
I was watching the finals on a big screen in my society complex amidst 300 fans, and I would say 95% of the audience was supporting one man, not even one team - that was the emotional connect of the fans with Messi.
While all the records point Messi in the direction of GOAT, somehow my heart refuses to term anyone except Maradona as the eternal GOAT. It’s not about the numbers, but I guess it’s simply because Maradona is the reason I started watching football back in 1986.
While watching the World Cup Final last evening, I could not but help compare this one with the 1986 Finals - the similarities were eerie. The magic & the aura of Messi was just like the magic & the aura of Maradona back then. Not just the Final, but even Messi’s 3rd goal in the Semi’s against Croatia seemed to almost mimic Maradona’s 2nd goal in the Quarter’s against England. Seems like the baton has well & truly passed. For me, Maradona remains GOAT, but Messi emerges as the Messiah.
Messiah means the Annointed One or the Saviour, and yesterday he became the Messiah for billions of Argentina fans worldwide as the saviour of their hopes & dreams for Argentina to lift the coveted World Cup again, and continue with the legacy of Maradona. With such legacy, I will remain an Argentina fan for life
(Tushar Kamat is a Technology Industry veteran who has worked with SAP, Airtel, Accenture. He’s presently the Global Chief Business Officer for a Series D Funded Supply Chain Start-up, Bizongo..
These are his personal views..)
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