Diego Maradona – I can’t recall when was the first time I heard his name, but I am sure he was the first footballer I knew. Since my childhood, I have always heard my elders discussing Maradona as the Greatest Player ever, tales of him single handily taking Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986. As I grew older, I eventually realized that Maradona didn’t play anymore and my generation has skipped a chance to witness the Greatest Player of All Time.
Early 2005, some nine years ago, I was exploring details about FC Barcelona on Wikipedia which ultimately led me to the profile of Lionel Messi – a young Argentine, who was being dubbed as “the new Maradona” back then. I was amazed that my club had this wonder kid coming through our ranks. That ‘Maradona’ tag-line instantly made me believe that he is supposed to be my favourite player, all above Ronaldinho, Deco & others – a player I never saw playing yet. I instantly discovered who will be the next Maradona, at least for me.
That summer, Messi represented Argentina at the U-20 World Cup in Netherlands. Not only that Messi went to win the World Cup but also was awarded the Best Player and Top Scorer of the tournament. Ironically, in 1979, Maradona led Argentina to U-20 World Cup too, & ended being Player of the tournament. Comparisons were becoming fruitful, & later that year Messi was officially promoted into Barcelona’s first team. Messi was now playing for the Catalan giants, same club where Maradona donned colors from 1982-1984. Similarity was written in the stars, ehh?
A year later, 18 years old Messi went to Germany for the FIFA World Cup 2006, hopes were high that his magic will be replicated. Before the World Cup, Maradona himself quoted: “I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi”. However, sometimes destiny keeps you waiting. Messi’s World Cup debut witnessed him play 3 games (2 of those as late substitute). Tournament saw Messi register a goal and an assist. Argentina was knocked by host nation Germany, in Quarter-finals on penalties – a game where coach Pekerman decided not to use Messi, as he lacked experience for such a big occasion. I was expecting to see Messi lift the cup, yet it never happened.
Four years later, South Africa was the host nation. This time Argentina National Team was being managed by none other than Diego Maradona. Messi, then 22, had won every possible trophy offered at the club level. He was all set to shine after having two amazing seasons with Guardiola’s Barcelona. Messi, already was being regarded by critics as one of the Greatest of All Time, but to be the Greatest Ever, he was supposed to win the World Cup – at least once. Argentina’s attack was headed by ruthless strikers including Tevez, Diego Milito, Kun Aguero and Higuain. What could they have needed more? I suggest a better tactical coach. Messi’s World Cup adventure once again lasted till the Quarter-finals, again being knocked out by Germany. Everyone saw Messi leave the pitch in tears. Maradona was to be blamed for not utilizing Lionel. He started the games as playmaker, however due to poor tactical management; Messi would sacrifice his strengths and move back into midfield. Maradona’s Argentina was never built the team around Messi. Another World Cup was gone, taking away another opportunity from him. Once again, I was expecting to see Messi lift the cup, yet it never happened.
Over the years now, Lionel Messi has literally broken every goal-scoring record that ever existed in football. In 2008, Messi lead Argentina to Beijing Olympics – eventually ended winning it and earning an Olympic gold medal. He is the first player to win 4 times Player of the Year gong. He holds the Guinness World Record for scoring most goals in a year (91). Messi has some +200 records embedded to his name. He already is listed as one of the Greatest Players ever. Football owes Messi a World Cup, and the little Argentine is already eyeing the adventure in Brazil.
Now on 15th June, Messi will begin a new journey. His third World Cup is here. He has to prove the critics wrong. He has to repay the faith of those who have trusted him. Argentina is now being managed by Alejandro Sabella. Lionel Messi, now 26 – will be leading his team as a Captain. The most optimistic thing about this term is that Sabella has built this team around Messi. Interestingly, this team features Kun Aguero, Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Ezequiel Garay & Lucas Biglia – all of them played along with Messi in that U-20 World Cup victory, back in 2005. Addition to that, Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi also have been playing with Messi since junior levels of Argentine team. So far, Messi has scored 10 goals during WC qualifiers, proving that he ticks well this Sabella.
This term, Messi won’t carry the pack on his shoulders, this time he is leading them. In 1986, 25 years old Maradona captained Argentina to their second World Cup. This term, can a 26 year old Messi captain Argentina to their third? Next World Cup, Russia 2018 – Messi will be 30, and that Argentine team surely won’t be built around him. Now is the time, Messi & his co from 2005 must pull of victory in Brazil.
I have seen Messi grow from a wonder-kid into a record four-time World Player of the Year, but his greatest quest is yet to be fulfilled. Only time will tell whether he was destined or not. I hope his wait ends this year ..and mine too!