It is only fitting that a tournament which began with certain fans saying ‘where’s Messi’ after Argentina’s defeat to Saudi Arabia ends with La Pulga sitting at the very top of the footballing assemblage, on his gilded throne. The question that was posed in the very first few days was answered on the last day of the World Cup, almost symbolising the path that Messi’s career, his legacy and his freshly-written fairytale has taken.
‘Perfection’ is usually a subjective term, until you realise the magnitude of unity that Argentina’s achievement and Messi’s crowning has brought about for the world. From Naples and Buenos Aires to Bangladesh and India, it is incredibly rare to see parts of the world that are so geographically far apart, celebrate for a common notion and rejoice for a man who has provided them indelible joy over the last two decades. No other force can do that but Messi has, atleast for some days.
Having said that, ‘perfection’ has several rings to it today. This isn’t just the coming together of the world for one man, it is another fulfilment of a prophecy that was made in the 1920s by the editor of Argentine newspaper El Grafico. While writing about what a statue in Argentina would depict, the editor wrote that it would represent a footballer with ‘intelligent, roving, trickster and persuasive eyes and a sparkling gaze that seem to hint at a picaresque laugh that does not quite manage to form on his mouth, full of small teeth’.
Jonathan Wilson, in his book ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ points out the similarities between Diego Maradona and the prophecy and while Messi is only a part-representation, he is the closest that Argentina can hold close as an emblem for what football means to the country, amidst political instability and growing inflation rates. It is a symbol of what Argentina holds dear to itself despite the nation’s situation and the role football plays in the society. Messi doing it is essentially the rawest reminder of Argentine culture possible today.
In some ways, the way it has all unfolded is almost as if we have finished reading the greatest novel ever written. It is a stark reminder of when the WWE was at a peak; chaos ensued, the fans were thoroughly invested and the storylines would often end as adeptly as a Hitchcock classic. Despite all the trials and tribulations, we knew that the Babyface would win and despite everything, he did. And when he did, crowds would erupt. There’s a reason why stories around the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy still make so many emotional about the times gone by.
The sole difference between all of that and football is the script (or the lack of it). Considering how Messi defined a whole generation of football, how it is played and how it has grown to become, something always seemed missing amidst all of his glitter and charm. For someone as artistically pleasing and ruthlessly sharp as him, a crowning moment remained elusive. The successes at Barcelona, a club that has sought solace in always being team-first than individuals-first, were naturally attributed to the overarching structures. The failures in 2010 and 2014 were followed by a premature retirement in 2016. The burden seemed too much to take and as Argentine football spiralled out of control, it nearly took Messi with it.
Contrast the dismay of 2016 to the incomparable joy of 18th December, 2022 and it speaks for closure. For years, the generation has seen an inability to crown a defining footballing figurehead. The 80s had Maradona, the early 2000s had Ronaldo and the 60s had Pele. The others existed, but the defining characters became known for etching storylines, symbolising cultures and winning the World Cup. It set them apart. The generation, before today, lacked that one token that would mark what the era was all about. France winning the tournament once again would have symbolised that the generation would be stuck in a duality forever, constantly chattering about a comparison between players of different contexts. But Messi’s World Cup win, if anything, might be the fitting closure of an era in football that will never be seen again.
Messi’s brace and performance – especially the second goal, arrived in the midst of pandemonium and a chaotic game of football. But they rightly say that art thrives in chaos and Messi winning the World Cup is certainly proof of that.
Kaustubh Pandey | GWFN