“But he hasn’t won a World Cup”… the phrase to avoid putting Lionel Messi at the level of Pelé and Diego Maradona ceased to be valid this Sunday in Qatar, where ‘La Pulga’ enlarged his legend by winning the trophy he made missing from his crowded showcase.
The World Cup, which he touched eight years ago in the final in Brazil-2014, finally came into his hands, with the victory against France on penalties, to the relief not only of him, but of an army of millions who took up the cause as their own. to see at the top of world football who they consider the best footballer in history.
In what will “surely” be his fifth and last World Cup appearance, where he also scored seven goals, a shy guy by nature became the center of attention for the third Argentine star (1978, 1986, 2022), and the brake on the European domain, whose teams won between 2006 and 2018.
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Quite a paradox against the continent that welcomed him since he was a child and that tried to seduce him, on behalf of Spain, where he arrived at the age of 13, to become the visible face of its football.
That physical distance at the beginning of his career distanced him from many of his compatriots, struck by the memory of Diego.
But it is enough to hear his accent and see him drinking mate to clear up any doubt about his loyalty to Argentina, the country where his Newell’s Old Boys club and others did not pay for his hormone treatment to stretch him to his current 1.70 meters tall.
– “More leader than ever” –
At the age of 35, he was “more leader than ever” of the Albiceleste, in the words of former Argentine captain Javier Zanetti, at a time when his tenacious explosiveness, one of his strong cards in the prime of his youth, has given way to a ’10 ‘more cerebral and dignified conductor.
“Messi has always given great things to the Argentine fans since he started playing. He is our captain, our leader, our reference. He deserves everything that he is experiencing, ”said the ‘Pupi’ in Doha.
On Qatari soil, he faced the coach of the Netherlands, Louis Van Gaal, and some ‘orange’ players who, he considered, did not respect Argentina in the quarterfinals.
His influence reached such a point that his teammates don’t go out on the field to warm up without him leading the squad.
The constant comparisons, especially in his land, with the caudillismo of Diego Maradona began to crack when he beat Brazil in the final of the Copa América-2021, no less than in the Maracana.
That triumph, which he celebrated by putting his hands to his face, hiding a contained cry after the defeats in the finals of the American tournaments of 2007, 2015 and 2016 and the 2014 World Cup, consecrated him captain after years of leaving others the leading role of command.
And the songs with his name and the tattoos with his face entered the Argentine landscape, until then monopolized by ‘Pelusa’.
“I’m enjoying it a lot and luckily I can help the group make things work out,” said the Rosario player after beating Croatia in the semifinals.
– The prize that was missing –
The victory in the temple of Rio de Janeiro, the first absolute Albiceleste title in 28 years, infected his team with the brilliance that has accompanied his laureate career, decorated with seven Ballon d’Ors and catapulted into the FC Barcelona training school , the renowned La Masía.
At Barça he was the spearhead of a team whose football fell in love with the planet: Pep Guardiola’s ‘Dream team’, where he made and undid alongside Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets.
As a culé, he won four Champions Leagues, ten Spanish Leagues, three Club World Cups… until in 2021 he divorced the club of his life to join Paris Saint Germain.
With the Parisians he had a very mundane first season, difficult to adapt to, although he still lifted the French league.
In the prelude to the World Cup, he showed that his talent was intact. He surrounded himself, as always, with his wife Antonela Roccuzzo and his children Thiago, Mateo and Ciro to get to the top of his big date.
And he fulfilled them, as well as the whole of Argentina and the millions around the world, including fans in the arch-rival Brazil, who dreamed of the coronation of ’10’.
“We’ve had hard times, we’ve had very good ones,” he said before the final against France. “Today we have to live a spectacular one.”