Now or never: Does football owe Messi a World Cup? | Qatar World Cup 2022

A melancholic smile broke throughout Lionel Messi’s face as he answered the reporter’s query after Argentina’s loss to Chile within the 2016 Copa America closing.

“That’s it for me, I’m executed with the nationwide crew,” mentioned Messi. “Like I mentioned earlier than, we misplaced 4 finals and it’s simply not for me.”

The anguish was evident on Messi’s face in that interview the place he introduced his worldwide retirement within the speedy aftermath of the loss.

When requested if his determination was closing, he was non-committal however pointedly added the way it simply needed to be him to overlook the decisive first penalty within the shootout.

For a person gifted a left foot that God created on Sunday, somebody consecrated by hundreds of thousands internationally, it’s becoming that Messi is a robust believer within the energy of future.

It’s one thing he typically evokes when speaking about Argentina. Within the viral dressing room clip of his speech forward of the 2021 Copa America closing, he spoke of how there was no such factor as coincidence that the event was shifted from Argentina to Brazil.

“God introduced it right here for us to raise on the Maracana, boys,” he mentioned passionately.

Qatar 2022 will nearly definitely be his closing act on the worldwide stage. It’s now or by no means for Messi however in a single sense, so has been every of the final three World Cups.

In 2010, with Diego Maradona as supervisor, it felt written within the stars for the king and the inheritor to revive glory to Argentina for the primary time since 1986. Nonetheless, actuality, and Germany, got here crashing down on romance in South Africa.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil coincided completely with the crest of Messi’s profession, when he entered the event having received 4 consecutive Ballon d’Ors within the earlier six years.

The supporting solid of Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Kun Aguero have been arguably on the peak of their powers – the elements for achievement couldn’t have been extra ripe. An look within the closing the place they have been ultimately felled by Germany belied a mediocre exhibiting that noticed them rating simply two targets after the group phases.

Argentina, managed by Maradona,  misplaced 4-0 to Germany within the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup [JAVIER SORIANO/AFP]

“It’s now or by no means for us, there is no such thing as a extra. We have now to see this as our closing World Cup and have a look at it as such and reap the benefits of the chance,” Messi mentioned.

It’s a quote that will have utilized to Argentina at the moment however if truth be told was mentioned forward of the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

They arrived as one of many oldest groups within the event, having secured qualification by way of the pores and skin of their enamel. Argentina’s marketing campaign was working on fumes from the beginning and it inevitably imploded within the round-of-16 towards France.

Doha felt gentle years away from Kazan on that afternoon and plenty of, together with Messi, anticipated it to be his closing bow.

Qatar isn’t a now-or-never World Cup for Messi, it’s a postscript for a film that was purported to have led to Russia.

It’s powerful to make sense of Messi’s World Cup performances. Whereas there have been moments of genius – the injury-time winner towards Iran in Brazil, the help for Di Maria towards Switzerland within the round-of-16, the contact and purpose towards Nigeria in 2018 – he’s but to attain a purpose within the knockout phases of the event.

For Argentina, he has seldom recreated the degrees he persistently hits for his golf equipment. Shut your eyes and consider Messi and the primary picture that comes up is of him within the blaugrana of Barcelona, palms aloft because the Camp Nou sways to his music.

Argentina has at all times been second fiddle to Messi’s iconography.

The searing pictures of Messi in blue and white are predominantly colored by ache – the forlornness on his face as he posed with the Golden Ball in 2014, the uncontrollable tears within the Metlife enviornment after the Copa America loss in 2016, the style by which he ignored Olivier Giroud’s outstretched hand within the tunnel after the loss to France in 2018.

Whereas the Copa America triumph final yr was a uncommon silver lining, it felt seismic not as a lot for the magnitude of the win as for the context behind it.

Messi was voted the very best participant of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil [JUAN MABROMATA / AFP]

However, it isn’t simply the dearth of on-field success that led to the fraught nature of Messi’s relationship with Argentinian followers.

Jonathan Wilson, writer of Angels with Soiled Faces: The Footballing Historical past of Argentina, believes the roots of this concern could be present in an editorial revealed within the iconic Argentinian sports activities journal El Gráfico in 1928.

“[The writer] says when you have been to erect a statue of Argentinian soccer, it will be the urchin youngster within the streets, he’d have this huge darkish hair, he’d be brief and squat. His enamel could be worn down by consuming yesterday’s bread, his shirt could be eaten by the mice [and] he’s coming from an impoverished background,” Wilson instructed Al Jazeera.

“When Maradona arrives it’s like ‘that is the one’ and broadly talking, he lived as much as that with large lows whereas Messi, it’s a special bodily kind, he doesn’t match the template, so I feel there’ll at all times be that resistance in Argentina.”

Whereas Messi’s transfer to Spain at a younger age additionally added to the resistance he confronted in Argentina, Wilson believes the turning level in his relationship with the followers got here after his retirement announcement in 2016.

“When he missed the penalty towards Chile, he was clearly so devastated. His tears and retirement that shocked folks into ‘we want him again’ and there was this outpouring of ‘please don’t retire’,” added Wilson.

Such was the depth of this sentiment in Argentina that the arrivals board of the subway in Buenos Aires learn “No te vayas Lio” (Lio, don’t go).

He didn’t return then however he’ll now.

Possibly soccer does owe Messi a World Cup, in the identical means it owes Steven Gerrard a Premier League, Gigi Buffon a Champions League and Franck Ribery a Ballon d’Or.

Greatness isn’t at all times good and never successful the World Cup won’t take away from Messi’s legacy.

However successful it will add a lot.

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