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Messi travelled a long road to the mountaintop

Lionel Messi is undoubtedly the greatest-ever player in fútbol. But though his talent has always been apparent, it took a while for the world to agree.

Ladies and gentlemen, it finally happened. Lionel Messi has won a World Cup. 

It was the only thing missing from his elusive trophy cabinet. For so many years, Messi was labeled as a failure on the national team and was known as Pecho Frío in the Spanish-speaking world. Despite making his debut for Argentina back in 2005, he failed to win anything with them until last summer, when things finally started to go his way in an Argentina shirt.

Messi experienced heartbreak after heartbreak

Messi suffered his first heartbreak with Argentina back in the 2006 World Cup, where the team lost to Germany in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals. That was followed by the 2007 Copa América final loss to Brazil, another quarter-final loss to Germany in the 2010 World Cup, and a quarter-final elimination to Uruguay in the 2011 Copa América.

It seemed like fortunes were beginning to change for him in the 2014 World Cup, as Messi had a brilliant tournament and led Argentina to their first World Cup final since 1990. However, just like 24 years before, they fell to the Germans in the end in a cruel fashion.

As if one final heartbreak wasn’t enough, Messi suffered two more in the next two years. Argentina lost to Chile in both the 2015 and 2016 Copa América finals, both in penalty shootouts. Messi scored his penalty in 2015, but missed badly in 2016– which became a popular meme along with his crying face after the game. The loss even led to him briefly retiring from the national team, though he would come back refocused with a different energy around him. 

One last chance

Argentina had a disaster of a World Cup with Jorge Sampaoli in 2018 and it looked like Messi’s last chance to win a World Cup was gone. After Sampaoli’s dismissal, Argentina appointed Lionel Scaloni, someone who had no prior head coach experience before the role. 

Things were not going well in the beginning, losing to Colombia in the 2019 Copa América group stage and then getting eliminated by Brazil in the semifinal. Messi was getting older while the team seemed to be getting worse. 

However, many young and talented Argentinian players emerged as starters for the national team starting in 2019. Guys like Rodrigo De Paul, Cristián Romero, and Lautato Martínez took the next step in their careers, and Messi was finally able to play with a strong supporting cast from top to bottom.

He finally won his first senior international trophy beating Brazil at the Maracanã last summer, and that helped him play without the pressure that was holding him back for so many years. Messi then went on to win another trophy this summer, beating Italy 3-0 in the Finalissima. But the job wasn’t quite finished. 

At 35 years old, this was set to be his last World Cup, his last dance with the national team. And he was able to win in dramatic fashion which even the best Hollywood scripts can’t match.

Pure ecstasy for Argentinians 

The last few years have been extremely rough for Argentinians. A 90% inflation rate, a difficult economic situation, and strict COVID lockdowns meant there was very little for Argentinians to celebrate. 

For the last four weeks though, they were able to forget those problems and just enjoy watching this team play. Tens of thousands of Argentinians traveled to Qatar, essentially making all their games felt like a home game except against Saudi Arabia and México. Not to be outdone, the fans at home provided a hero’s welcome in Buenos Aires when the squad returned last night. 

Many people packed the streets at 4 AM to celebrate as the Argentinian team held a victory parade after leaving the airport, and there are roughly four million people currently celebrating all over Buenos Aires as the government declared today a national holiday.

Messi was known as Pecho Frío for most of his career. Today he is Argentina’s biggest hero, and has undoubtedly become the greatest ever to play the game of fútbol.