Check Out Inside Argentina Captain Lionel Messi’s Quest For World Cup 2022 Glory

For almost two minutes around the 70-minute mark in Tuesday’s semi-final against Croatia, a barely mobile Lionel Messi stood on the side of the halfway line waiting for the ball.

Finally receiving it, he started running alongside center-back Josko Gvardiol, getting closer to the edge of the box, before looking back and realizing the 20-year-old defender was catching him.

As he neared the byeline, Messi turned and looked like he was going back, before turning again, accelerating and gaining those crucial meters that left Gvardiol in his wake. The cross to Julian Alvarez was with his right foot and the center-forward became the beneficiary of another stroke of Messi’s genius to confirm Argentina’s place in Sunday’s World Cup final against France.

Making constant, correct choices is one of the key reasons Messi’s career has reached heights nobody has ever got to – and why he rests so much during matches now.

At 35, he is, more than ever, a player of moments in a World Cup of moments. A man for the occasion.

As he orchestrated the Argentina fans from the center of the pitch – just like he conducts play on it – you knew the size of the moment. The player who has won almost everything now has one last shot at the biggest prize of all.

Messi’s words after Argentina’s dramatic and ill-tempered penalty shootout win over the Netherlands in the quarter-finals were directed at Dutch substitute Wout Weghorst, the striker who came off the bench and scored the two goals that earned extra time for Louis van Gaal’s men.

“Ever since he came on, their number 19 was provoking us, bumping into us, and saying things – and, it seems to me, this is not part of football. I always respect everyone, but I like that they respect me too. Nor was their coach respectful towards us,” Messi explained after the match.

It is not what we have come to expect from the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.

‘Bobo’ is an old word often used by children at school. The same word Messi would almost certainly have used at the age of 12, just before leaving South America to be wrapped in another world in Europe, in Barcelona.

What we are seeing is not a new Messi, but the rebirth of the teenager who left Rosario. It all started to come out again in 2019.

The arrival of a communicative and humble coach like Lionel Scaloni, after the disappointment of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, brought with it one main idea: to create the perfect environment for Messi. This involved the development of a group of young players, under the clear leadership of the captain they admire.

Amid the uncertainty around his future at Barcelona, the national team offered Messi protection, solace, and a group of friends when he needed them most.

Calls to join the Argentina squad’s training camps became as necessary as they were gratifying. There were barbecues, a recognizable sense of humor, and lots of mates – the traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink. Concepts like revenge, battle, team unity, to win no matter how dominated conversations. It was home.

In the quarter-finals of the 2019 Copa America against Venezuela, there were the first indications something new was happening as Messi sang the national anthem for the first time, as he has done ever since.

In the semi-final, Argentina lost to Brazil in Belo Horizonte, and they believed Brazil’s then-president Jair Bolsonaro had used the competition to play politics – walking across the pitch at half-time with the fans yelling ‘mito, mito (legend, legend)’.

Argentina, despite being the better side, were left furious about two possible penalty shouts, on which they believed the video assistant referee should have intervened in their favor.

Messi went out to the mixed zone to say: “I hope Conmebol does something with this type of refereeing. I don’t think they will do anything because Brazil controls everything”.

His words would lead to him being banned for three months by South American football’s governing body. In the following match – the third-place play-off against Chile – Messi was sent off for “confronting an opponent”, his second red card in 14 years with the national team.

Maybe Netherlands boss Van Gaal had not heard Messi was beginning to show another side. Or perhaps he had and for that reason was looking for ways to provoke him. Maybe that is why he accused him of not turning up when it mattered most in important games, of losing interest when dispossessed.

It did not pass Messi by and we saw all sides of his personality in the World Cup quarter-final in Qatar.

He celebrated putting Argentina 2-0 up from the penalty spot by running towards the Dutch bench. He stopped with his hands to his ears, evoking the image of puppet mouse Topo Gigio, the celebration of former Argentina midfielder Joan Roman Riquelme.

This was meant as a reminder to Van Gaal of the shabby way he believed the Dutchman had treated his friend while both were in Barcelona. Messi then approached both him and assistant Edgar Davids to tell them they had been speaking too much.

With those gestures, Messi was championing the creativity associated with Riquelme over European order and discipline. He was defending football born in the street against that which is coached.

It was a quarter-final in which Messi did not fight to control their emotions, but ran with them. It was a battle.

In Catalonia, where shows of high emotions are viewed somewhat disparagingly, Messi was generally quiet and focused on his work. His legend was created from the bricks and mortar of football, building his reputation with what he did rather than by what he said. But Leo – this Leo – was always there. He was, after all, born in Rosario, Argentina.

Scaloni’s group of mostly young players sees only one possible leader: Messi.

Argentina World Cup winner Jorge Valdano told the Guardian: “When he walks into the dining room everyone looks at him – players, staff, chefs, kitten, the lot. And that’s people who know him… [they] have to know how to live with a genius. For a long time, this Argentina team didn’t; now they’ve learned. The idea that everyone’s the same isn’t true.”

The walls of the national side’s dressing room carry memories of how to lead.

Messi is now the embodiment of Mario Kempes, Ricardo Bocchini, Daniel Passarela, Diego Maradona, Oscar Ruggeri, Javier Mascherano, and Juan Sebastian Veron – players who knew the game was won not just on the pitch, but also with how you spoke to your team-mates, the referee, the rivals.

Messi has decided to embrace that role, it feels natural now.

Those who leave their homeland sometimes forget what fired them up as kids – but when they remember, the emotion is intense. It is the process Messi has gone through.

Surrounded for 30 days by young players who were like him as a child – challenging, aggressive, competitive footballers who know what it is to suffer on the pitch, looked after by the streetwise team joker Rodrigo de Paul – he has found his place in the world.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button