7.14.14

Lionel Messi: The Weight of a Nation

Lionel Messi

words // Tim Dunn

With shoulders slumped, Lionel Messi looked as though he’d just finished a marathon. And in reality, he had. Only this wasn’t your typical test of endurance and stamina – this was one that demanded speed, skill, strength, and precision. It required one man to shoulder the hopes of a nation, and single-handedly carry them to victory. And for the briefest of moments, it seemed that Messi, the Magician, the Little Genius, would once again pull off the impossible. But it was not to be.

To the uninitiated, the expectations placed on Messi leading up to Brazil must have seemed incredible. How could one man possibly be expected to take on 11 others and come out victorious? And not just once, but for an entire month, on the largest stage the world has to offer? It seemed that every day, there was another headline demanding success from the Argentine. Another headline wondering if, perhaps this was the tournament that would cement his legacy at the top, ascending him from an earthly superstar and up into the celestial heavens to take his place on soccer’s Mt. Olympus.  For someone unfamiliar with the Argentinian maestro and his game, it was impossible to believe. But throughout his entire career, the 5’7” Messi has proved the impossible possible time and again. He’s scored over 350 career goals at the club level and won four consecutive player of the year awards (2009-2012), all at just 27 years of age – the only player to ever do so. In fact, he’s won nearly everything there is to win in soccer: league titles, scoring titles, player of the year trophies… he owns them all. All except one.

And so it was that he arrived in Brazil, expected to conquer the world; facing team after team, all of which had the same goal: to neutralize him and thus, Argentina. Despite the challenges and tactical measures drawn up against him, despite being swarmed by defenders any time he even came close to touching the ball, Messi shouldered the load. He single-handedly propelled Argentina through the group stage, scoring four of his team’s six goals, including a superb game-winner in the 91st minute against Iran.

Although he was held scoreless for the rest of the tournament, Messi was all over the place, controlling the ball and creating opportunities for his teammates as Argentina marched on toward the final. Finally, the day arrived. Messi had amazingly, and improbably, lead Argentina to the final match – the one that would secure his destiny as soccer’s greatest player. Pundits and analysts almost universally agreed that Germany was the better team, more complete and balanced; but the stars were aligned – this was Messi’s moment. The one he had earned, and the one he deserved. The man who had won everything else was a mere 90 minutes away from the last great prize.

The first 45 went by, and it was all even. Then another 45, and still it wasn’t enough to determine a winner.  Into extra time it went, the scene ripe for another Messi game-winner, the electricity in the air almost palpable. Then, in the blink of an eye, the fairy tale was over. Germany scored in the 113th minute, destroying the hopes of a nation, and deflating the spirit of the man who had laid it all on the line.

Despite his selection as player of the tournament, Messi was despondent.  “I just wanted to win the World Cup,” he said. “This award means nothing to me now.”

While Argentina’s failure to bring home a victory may raise doubts for some as to Messi’s status of greatest of all time, there’s no doubt that he remains in the conversation. A player of such caliber, who performs at the highest level on such a consistent basis, Messi is truly one of the best to ever play the game.  And who knows? Four years from now, he may still have one more chance left in him to prove the doubters wrong; one more chance to lead his country to greatness and eliminate all doubts as to his place in history.

For more on Leo Messi, be sure to catch him on this month’s Eastbay catalog.

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