Lionel Messi: An ode to the greatest ever to grace the pitch

The little boy from Rosario, Santa Fe has etched his name in football history as one of the Greatest of All Time. The crowning glory was when he silenced his critics and lifted the World Cup for Argentina at the age of 35.

Messi - Figure 1
Photo The New Indian Express

Lionel Messi, the Barcelona legend had been to the mouth of abyss and conquered his final peak. But the journey was not devoid of pitfalls. In fact, it was the contrary, and him winning every trophy possible with Argentina is a story of hope, resilience and sheer will.

At the age of 13, Messi’s hope of being a professional footballer was shattered after he was diagnosed with “growth hormone deficiency”. However, he and his parents refused to give up, moving to Barcelona and slowly making his way up the ladder and proving himself as one of the best football players of all time. While his club career had been exceptional, his career with the National Team was filled with a lot of ups and downs, more downs than ups, until recently.

Argentina's Lionel Messi kicks from the corner during the first half of the Copa America Centenario championship match against Chile(Photo |AP)

Messi’s international journey began in 2005, during the Under 20s Championship. A relatively unknown name with a small stature, Messi did not leave a good impression on the Argentina coaches, but they knew that Spain wanted him to play for their National Team.

Messi - Figure 2
Photo The New Indian Express

At the age of 17, a little boy with floppy hair tip-toed his way onto the pitch. While unassuming at first there was a collective jaw-drop seeing him weave magic on the field. The ball stuck to his left foot as if there was a magnet on his foot.

Argentina's Lionel Messi lines up a shot, as he gets past Canada's goalkeeper during a Copa América match(Photo | AP)

He was able to pick out a player perfectly as if he had drawn a line through which the ball was allowed to go. Years went by, and Messi grew from a trembling teenager to a player who was considered to be one of the greatest. His exceptional performance, season after season for his club Barcelona scoring more than 40 goals almost every season, making it the new normal, was not reflected in his international career. While Messi and Ronaldo were pushing each other to new limits every season, Messi’s international career fell short.

Messi - Figure 3
Photo The New Indian Express

While Messi took his Barcelona side to 10 domestic league championships, he was not able to lead his country to even one international trophy.

Argentina's Lionel Messi controls the ball during a Copa America match against Canada(Photo | AP)

He came so close to winning the World Cup in 2014, against a strong German team. The world was ready to celebrate the G.O.A.T. win the biggest tournament of football, but, alas, the footballing Gods had other plans.

Ninety minutes were over and the score was 0-0, extra time was underway. Mario Gotze came on as a substitute for Germany, the man who would take away Messi’s dream in the blink of an eye. A cross from Schurrle in the 113th minute to the super sub Mario Gotze who cushioned the ball with his chest and swept the ball past Romero, the Argentine goalkeeper. The first of many disappointing endings for the Argentina National team and Messi.

Messi - Figure 4
Photo The New Indian Express

The earlier misses of Higuain and Messi had cost them the match. Despite winning the player of the tournament, the criticism fell on the the team and its captain - Lionel Messi.

Lionel Messi, dribbling past Canada's defence during a Copa America match(Photo | AP)

Messi had another shot to lead his country to international glory, one year after the stinging defeat in the World Cup, with Copa America. The La Albiceleste had reached the final of Copa America 2015. The match against Chile ended 0-0 at the end of 120 minutes, the match went to penalties. Messi did his part, but his teammates didn’t. Higuain with another miss during the penalties that cost Messi and Co. another tournament.

Fast forward another year, Messi was in yet another final of Copa America, once again facing Chile. Messi scored 5 in the campaign and the team won against Chile during the group stage however, when it came to the final, the goals disappeared. Once again Messi saw himself at the penalty spot during the shootout, however, this time Messi saw the ball fly over the crossbar. Deja vu, that is what it felt like for the fans and the players as Argentina lost yet another Copa final against Chile after a penalty shootout.

Messi - Figure 5
Photo The New Indian Express

Argentina's Lionel Messi (Photo | AP)

Criticism followed yet again. Messi feeling that he could no longer continue with his National team decided to retire from his International career. He was at the peak of his career carrying Barcelona to a treble along with Iniesta and Neymar the previous year.

His retirement didn’t last long as he decided to come back after fans and his teammates requested him to come out of retirement.

However, things did not get better, Argentina’s defeat at the hands of France in the round of 16 after barely scraping through the group stage during the 2018 World Cup and the 0-2 loss against Brazil during the Copa America semi-final once again saw Messi at the receiving end of criticism. Argentina football legend Diego Maradona criticised Messi saying that he was not suited to be captain of the national team.

Following this, Messi showed the football world what was one of the best individual performances of a player’s career as he carried a shaky Barcelona to a domestic double. He made it seem like Barcelona was still what it used to be, even though that was far from the truth. His team failed him that year as he almost led Barcelona to a Champions League singlehandedly.

Messi - Figure 6
Photo The New Indian Express

Lionel Messi receives the 2023 Ballon d'Or trophy during the 67th Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) award ceremony at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, France.(Photo | AP)

Messi’s relationship with Barcelona was strained. There were rumours about him leaving, however, he stayed for another season after which he was forced to leave the club he had spent his entire life with. His move to Paris was bittersweet as he left his childhood club, but seeing him play with his friend Neymar brought back memories of his Barcelona days.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, celebrate their fourth goal during a Champions League Group C soccer match between Barcelona and Manchester City at Camp Nou. (Photo | AP)

While Messi achieved everything that he wished to individually and with his club, an international trophy continued to elude him. By now, Messi’s priority had changed. He was more focused on his national team now.

Messi - Figure 7
Photo The New Indian Express

La Albiceleste were in the process of rebuilding. Under Lionel Scaloni, a team was built around Messi, this time filled with players who grew up watching Messi and who considered him to be their idol. Players who were willing to give it their all to see the man who made many fall in love with the game, happy. Messi also seemed different with the team. He had become a more vocal and an encouraging figure for the team.

Then came Copa America 2021, Messi became the best player of the tournament and the top scorer as he took his nation to a trophy that had eluded him for so long. A victory against their arch-rivals Brazil. After the final whistle, Messi went down on his knees, elated with finally getting what he wanted. And there began his journey to complete football.

Teammates toss Messi in the air after beating Brazil 1-0 in the Copa America final(Photo | AP)

After winning the Copa, UEFA and CONMEBOL organised the Finalissima to honour the legacy of Maradona who passed away in 2020. Argentina faced Italy, and Argentina came out on top, winning 3-0 against the then Euro Cup champions Italy.

Messi - Figure 8
Photo The New Indian Express

Fast forward a few months and the World Cup had arrived, the biggest tournament, the biggest dream of Messi - a chance for redemption, a chance to silence the critics, a chance to be called the undisputed greatest footballer of all time.

Messi playing for his club Barcelona (Photo | AP)

Messi and co were favourites despite having heavyweights like England, France, Belgium and Brazil, in the World Cup campaign, but all the dreams came crashing down after the first group stage game as Saudi won against Argentina in a shocking twist. Messi came out and asked the fans to trust the team and that the team would not disappoint the fans again. And eventually, that was what happened. After a thrilling World Cup final against France that saw the match go into extra time, Argentina were champions of the world and he cemented himself as the undisputed, unparalleled Greatest of All Time.

Messi - Figure 9
Photo The New Indian Express

In the immortal words of Peter Drury, “Lionel Messi had conquered his final peak, Lionel Messi had shaken hands with paradise.”

Argentina's Lionel Messi pats the trophy after winning the World Cup final match against France at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar. (Photo | AP)

As Lionel Messi enters the twilight of his career, his story transcends the boundaries of a mere sport, weaving itself into the fabric of collective dreams and aspirations of football fans.

His journey from the dusty streets of Rosario to the pinnacle of football world is not just a tale of unparalleled skill, but a testament to unwavering determination, humility, and grace.

Messi's magic on the field, and his ability to conjure moments of pure artistry from thin air, remind us all of the beauty that lies in perseverance and passion.

His every touch, every goal, and every heartfelt celebration echoes with the hopes of millions, inspiring generations to chase their dreams with relentless passion and intensity. In Messi, his fans find not just a footballer, but a beacon of the human spirit, a poetic symbol of what it means to rise, to strive, and to shine, lighting up the world one breathtaking moment at a time.

Messi - Figure 10
Photo The New Indian Express
Read more
Similar news