Sports does not always deliver the best narratives.
When it does, you have the entire world witnessing something that has a profound impact.
On 18th December 2022, Argentina lifted the FIFA World Cup for the third time. While the game was significant in its own way, a lot of sceptics, critics, and commentators heaved a sigh of relief to settle the biggest debate of our footballing generation- Who is the G.O.A.T?
Ever since the last debate, we have been arguing whether it’s Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo?
At 35 years of age, Lionel Messi, the captain of the Argentina football team was able to engineer a masterful performance that saw him being crowned the Player of the Tournament.
With 3 goals in the final itself, Messi not only got his illustrious hands on the only trophy that had eluded him, but also settled the debate once and for all.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man…
Lio Messi has always worn the stamp of greatness over his head like a halo for a long time. In just five years, everyone agreed that he would be dancing with Maradona and Pele.
The difference between these two legends and Messi was that both of them were able to win respective World Cups for their country at a relatively young age. Maradona was 25 during the infamous ‘Hand of God’ final. Pele was a teenager at 17 yours of age when he lifted the trophy.
Messi on the other hand had to wait until he was 35 years of age when he lifted the trophy at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar.
If you look at the other end of the spectrum, Messi was probably untouchable at the Club level with Barcelona. With 800+ career goals, 41 cups and trophies, and 7 Ballon d’Ors, he is the best of all time.
In the final, Messi looked as focused as he ever looked before. Swift passing. Lethal accuracy, and a commitment to take the ball from the half-line and sweep it across the flanks meant Messi was able to dictate the play.
It was the midfield were Argentina outplayed France convincingly. Right up until the 80th minute of the play, Argentina with two goals to their name were walking away with the trophy.
Messi opened the scoring with a smooth penalty after Angel Di Maria was brought down. In the second Argentina goal, the little maestro had a brilliant two touch pass that released Alvarez down the right flank. Alvarez slid it beautifully across the French goal where di Maria was waiting to slot it in across a helpless Lloris.
The extra time goal scored by Messi was a classic striker’s presence of mind moment. Messi found himself at the right place at the right time when Lloris’ save fell nicely to his feet. Yes, he had to jump higher and put it into the net.
That is what great players are all about. They read the game, the moves and ultimately find themselves in perfect goal scoring positions.
Even before the penalties began, Messi had scored 2 goals and provided 1 assist.
Kylian Mbappe: The passing of the baton
While the spotlight was on Messi, another superstar showed the entire world why he is the one that will carry forward the baton of greatness.
Kylian Mbappe is a lightning bolt! The phenomenal Frenchman time and again proved why he should always be considered as one of the modern greats of the game.
Whether it was his penalty in the 79th minute of play, or the acrobatic volley at the 80th minute, Mbappe ensured that it was not going to be all smooth sailing for Messi and Argentina.
Every time it seemed that Argentina had delivered the final blow, Mbappe ensured that the game went right to the end.
While Messi won the Player or the Tournament, Mbappe won the Golden Boot as the highest goal scorer of the FIFA World Cup 2022. To many, he could have also been considered for the award that was given to Messi.
The pace, the awareness, and the killer instinct, all on top of a head that showed a level of maturity that is far beyond his years, showed that it will always be Mbappe and no one else that will inherit the G.O.A.T tag from Messi (sorry Neymar).
Messi: An effortless career deserved the fitting finale
Have you ever wondered why you follow or are devoted to a sporting great?
The loyalty, commitment and devotion to a footballer, a team is something that transcends beyond anything else.
For example, human beings tend to always do something for someone in terms of a transaction.
However, in terms of sports, there is no transaction involved. The feeling is innocent, noble, and free from any form of caprice.
As soon as Argentina won, fireworks went off not only in Buenos Aires, but in hundreds of countries all over the world. Why?
It is because of how Lionel Messi has always conducted himself. The way he has played football with an effectiveness and grace that has become so endearing to us. Not a single unnecessary bit of showboating, yet an endless assortment of dribbles, passes, and delectable goals.
Just to draw an analogy, Leo Messi is to football what Roger Federer is to tennis. Giants of the game that have won over even their harshest critics with a brand of game that is out of this world. The Federer single handed backhand or Messi’s dizzying drive-ins into the penalty box will always remain in our hearts and minds.
The emergence, growth, and culmination of greatness spanning across 22 years
When Messi lifted the World Cup, he not only represented football greatness but the hopes and aspirations of millions around the world who had been told that they will never be able to compete, let alone establish themselves in their field.
Messi was just 13 years old, when Barcelona’s scouts spotted the young Argentinian. They were the ones that could sponsor a Growth Hormone that could help Messi grow to a normal height and aid his physical development.
Gerard Pique has once famously noted how the coach at the Juniors team of Barcelona had requested the players to not tackle Messi since he had a problem with brittle bones.
Pique then commented that leave alone tackle, we couldn’t come near him. That was his greatness at such a young age.
Messi is not as physically gifted as someone like Christiano Ronaldo. You can say that he did not win the genetic lottery. What he had was a set of skills that he reared day in day out.
Argentinians took their own sweet time to warm up to Messi, most notably they had seen so little of him before Barcelona made him pack his bags and leave Rosaria.
At Barcelona, Messi excelled and cemented his stature as a footballer of top stature. However, he was never able to replicate the same magic for Argentina.
The Copa America Final of 2021 against Brazil was the final argument that Messi won. Now not only the entire world, but also the most hardcore Argentinians rallied behind Messi as he sought to make a bid for the most coveted crown in the entire football world.
The G.O.A.T- Today, tomorrow, and forever
The worst part about greatness is that it is always replaced from one generation to another. For my father, Pele and Maradona will always be the greatest and best. Even when I tried to show him games where Messi or Ronaldo were playing, he would always no matter what, hold onto his declaration that these guys will never be able to be close to Maradona or Pele.
For our generation that have seen Messi and Ronaldo, they will always continue to be the best. After ten of fifteen years, maybe our children or those that are in school would say the same about one Kylian Mbappe. That is how sports is interpreted across generations, years, and decades.
This is the first time Lionel Messi can call himself a true world champion. The fact that he achieved this glory at his last chance makes it ever so poetic.
For now, for us, and for this generation, it is time to embrace the moment.
It is time to embrace the 13-year-old kid with dreams in his eyes from Rosaria.
It is time to embrace Lionel Messi, the Greatest Of All Time.