(By Rahul Pandey)
What do you do if you are one of the greatest footballer to have ever graced the game, 5 time Ballon d’or winner, highest goal scorer for your country as well as club and have won every possible team or individual laurel, except the big one. When the media all across the globe questions your ability, when the opposition and their fans, try to take you down you every second, when your national side is on the catastrophie of missing out the greatest event on the planet, and the only hope they have is you. Well, you simply cannot do a thing about it, not until your name happens to be Lionel Andres Messi.
The Ecuador national team thought they had completed one of the biggest upsets in the history of the beautiful game, when they scored within 40 seconds against the Argentinians. Just over 35,000 fans in Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa were jubiliating. But in their celebrations, they almost forgot they were up against something that couldn’t be stopped, controlled or confined. It took only 17 minutes to overturn the deficit and then an hour later, seal the win with a master class hattrick. Signature mazzy dribbles, dazzling footwork, pinpoint finishing, Lionel Messi had single handedly booked La Albiceleste’s tickets to Russia next summer, also making them one of the favorites to lift the ultimate prize.
But this wasn’t the first time he was going to play at the biggest of the stages, not so long ago having suffered a major heartbreak of losing the 2014 World Cup final against Germany. And that wasn’t just about it, 2 more finals of major international tournaments [Copa America 2015 & Copa America Centenario 2016] ended in a last moment surrender. Such was the harshness of the time that an illustrous career would’ve come to an abrupt end. The thing about being Lionel Messi, is that no matter how good you start the run, if you don’t cross the finish line, with a billion hopes rested on your shoulders, you’re the one responsible. No matter how many people are around you, deep down you’re left all alone with your dream.
The dream that every player seeks, the dream that you saw as a 5-year old boy from the streets of Rosario, to play for your nation and lift the World Cup. It is what defines the all time greats. Be it Pele or Maradona, Beckenbauer or Cryuff, Ronaldinho or Zidane, Messi had been applauded by all of them, as ‘one of the greatest’. But getting his hands on the biggest prize would seal the discussion, once and for all, making him ‘the all time greatest’.
In 13 years of professional football there is barely anything that Lionel Messi has left undone. But apart from the mind boggling statistics and achievements, his story has been more about perseverance and determination to rise from hard times. That is why he has earned the chance to complete that story. To write a final and the most important chapter of his story. World Cup 2018 might be his last chance to do so, looking at the immense talent in the Argentina squad, there is no doubt it might be his best chance to do so.
But if one man could define it perfectly, then it would be the coach Jorge Sampaoli himself, “He doesn’t owe Argentina a World Cup, football owes him a World Cup. He’s the greatest ever. He is Lionel Messi.”