“Forgive them father,for they know not what they have done.”
These were the lines which Chirst supposedly uttered after being crucified by the people for whom he had dedicated his entire life. And in a strange twist of fate, it seems that the same line can be uttered by a man, a footballer, almost two millennia later – and that footballer is none other than the 28 year old Barcelona forward and to many, the one of the greatest players ever to have graced the game, Lionel Messi.
The superstar striker has won 4 editions of the Champions League and 7 editions of the La Liga, but the final appears to be as far as he gets with his country Argentina. It happened in Maracaibo during the 2007 Copa America, in Rio De Janeiro during the 2014 World Cup and again this month in Santiago in the 2015 Copa America. The Argentinian captain, the leader of a generation which also includes world class players like Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Carlos Tevez, has so far been unable to grab a senior title that has eluded his nation for 22 years.
It has often been remarked and widely been accepted that this failure is because Lionel Messi is simply not the player he is when he has Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta beside him on the pitch, his two Barcelona teammates with whom he has grown up since the age of 12 and so, share an understanding of the game like no trio ever has. Even his camaraderie with the likes of Javier Pastore, Pablo Zabaletta, Aguero and Di Maria and their connection on the pitch cannot deliver a trophy. Many feel that Messi needs to win a title with the national team, preferably a World Cup, to finally earn comparison with the likes of Brazil’s Pele and his illustrious predecessor Diego Maradona. A Copa America was the second best option, although just like the aforementioned two, he has failed to win even that now. Argentinians have even gone so far as to question his loyalty towards his national team, given the major differences in his performance for the Blaugranas and the Albicelestes.
But I refuse to subscribe to the aforementioned views. It is wrong to question Messi’s greatness based on his failure to win a trophy of value for his national team; it is criminally wrong to even question his passion for the Blue and White brigade. Having practically grown up in Spain, he could have easily opted to ply for them and would have had the distinction to win everything as we know now, but he instead chose to put on the famous shirt of his homeland,his Argentina. Moreover, all international competitions these days are staged during the season break in the months of June-July, and both the World Cup last year and the Copa this year were no different. Just picture this, Messi plays over 60 games every season for his club, across thousands of kilometers, hours of jet lags and through various climates and still remain as fit as a horse and scores goals and breaks records for fun, all in his characteristic, breathtaking fashion. You simply need to admire the man’s fitness and dedication to the cause to realize that even after engaging in such a long and taxing season for Barca, he steps out with a smile every time he puts on the Argentina shirt. And his magic starts to mesmerize us all over again. It doesn’t really matter that he has failed to score a goal in the Knockout stages of a major tournament with Argentina for 8 years, stats can take a back seat, after all, when have they ever told us the true story? The sheer passion and love this man has for the game is unlike an the world has seen, and that is something no page of a record book will tell you.
For every Maradona there is a Buruchaga, for every Pele, there is a Gerson, but for every Messi there seems to be either a Higuain or a Palacios. In most of his recent matches for his country, Messi has been employed in a much deeper role so that he can orchestrate his team’s play because there is no one good enough in the team to do so. And though his performances in that position haven’t exactly been spellbinding, he has still managed to set up sick passes for his forwards – only to see them fail to convert the chances over and over again. Gonzalo Higuain has been slammed worldwide for missing so many chances in the final and rightly so. He has been guilty of letting go of sitters on numerous occasions, which have cost his team and his teammate so dearly. But then again, maybe, it is Messi’s destiny to never win a final for Argentina — there is no other explanation why he has been denied the opportunity to link up with the one player who comes closest to matching his skill and vision – Angel Di Maria. The diminutive Manchester United winger missed last year’s World Cup final due to injury and had to be withdrawn after 23 minutes in the Copa final this year again due to the same reason. Bad luck? Seems so.
Lionel Messi’s Man of the match chapter
Many (including me) thought Messi didn’t deserve the Best Player at the finals the previous year, Maradona even dished his dissent on air saying that it was wrong on Adidas’s part to sponsor the award to their client ( Messi is an Adidas ambassador). It is probable that he wanted to avoid such a controversy again, for which he refused to take the Most Valuable Player of the Copas this year. But what very few noticed, was Messi’s face when his name was announced at the Maracana in 2014 to receive the trophy, it looked like he had been drained of all his blood and a lifeless corpse was standing on the pitch, still unable to digest what had just transpired. This year too, in one of the most poignant scenes you will ever see on a football pitch, Leo was hugged by a small kid wearing a Chile shirt, who had rushed on the pitch to celebrate his team’s win. But Messi made no reaction to it. He just stood there, completely oblivious to the world around him, his eyes lost in thought and his heart bleeding, exactly like it had a year ago.
Football is a funny game, it can make you laugh and it can make you cry, but to Leo, it seems it can only be cruel. There have been several great players in history who have been denied the opportunity to win the trophy the whole world thought they had to win, like Cruyff and the World Cup, Paul Gascoigne and the Euro Cup, but Lionel Messi tops that list, because his story is like no other. He seems to share the fate of Jesus the Redeemer, for both men had given it all for their country and then some, but neither were accepted by their own people as truly “great”. It seems that Messi’s biggest mistake was the fact that he had the ability to inspire his team to make it to the finals every time, and then fail, for some reason or the other. But that is also what sets the likes of Messi apart from the rest, because you know he can take it, because you know he will rise again like a phoenix from it’s ashes, because you know that no matter how many times you crucify him, he will resurrect himself.