WRITTEN BY ANJISHNU ROY
We’re 100 days away from the greatest sporting spectacle on Planet Earth. The FIFA World Cup. And I’d like to discuss with you today something I like to call the La Pulga Albiceleste paradox.
What is it you ask?
Read on to know.
Lionel has won everything the game has to offer. From the adulation of millions around the globe to the respect and admiration of his peers and everyone associated with the game. From 4 UEFA Champions League trophies to 5 Ballon d’Ors. (at the time of writing)
Well, just about everything.
It’s been a decade since the Olympic gold medal in Beijing, and yet Leo has nothing more to show on the achievements section of his national résumé. Detractors and critics lash out at him using this point and elude him from the throne that has for long belonged to the duo of Pélé and Maradona.
Being the greatest of all time. Being close to divinity.
“He hasn’t won a World Cup” they say.
“He can’t perform in the Argentine jersey” they also say.
It’s even funny and quite flabbergasting at the same time to imagine that Leo’s countrymen echoed the same sentiments for a long period as well.
But does he really underperform with Argentina?
I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again. Leo’s greatest achievements aren’t winning consecutive La Ligas with Barcelona, nor the trebles in 2009 and 2015. And not even the ridiculous record breaking 91 goals in a calendar year for club and country.
His greatest achievement is dragging Argentina to three consecutive cup finals.
You’ll probably hear a lot that Argentina has a world class strike force, winning shouldn’t be that hard. Right?
Well, the names of Higuain, Aguero, Dybala, Icardi, Di Maria, Tevez, Pastore that are so gloriously thrown around while attacking Leo sound illustrious only on paper. They’re stellar individuals, there’s no denying that, but any sane minded person who has watched this Argentina side since the last decade know for a fact that it is a one man team. A broken, shattered, messed up squad holding on to it’s Messiah for respite in the most pivotal of moments. And there’s a popular maxim that says, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘football’ or ‘team’, and yet, the expectations from Leo are greater than the pressure level at the bottom of Mariana Trench.
The match against Ecuador in September last year was one of the biggest tests in Leo’s career and was a testament to the same. He took Sampaoli’s team by the scruff of it’s neck and decided he wanted to spend his summer of 2018 in Russia. So, he went and scored a sublime hattrick at 2950m above sea level in a do or die game, in a ground where Argentina had won only once in their history previously. When everything that could go wrong had gone wrong for Argentina, their Messiah stood and delivered.
And not for the first time.
I blame Leo. For spoiling us this way. For his miracles.
One wonders what the history books would look like had Jose Burruchaga not converted Maradona’s (who made as much of an impact as Messi did against Chile in the Copa 2016 final) pass in the 1986 World Cup final at the Azteca in Mexico. One also imagines what it would be like had Palacio converted the glorious chance in the extra time of 2014 World Cup or had Higuain not bottled three consecutive finals with chances he could have capitalised on with his eyes closed at Juve or Napoli.
For me, that’s about the only difference I can think of between the two. Only that, Maradona was Maradona sometimes (1986 with Argentina and 1987-90 with Napoli), Messi is Maradona every week and has been Maradona-ing for a decade now.
This is the La Pulga Albiceleste Paradox.
Leo’s greatest achievement with his national side is also his biggest tragedy.
For a nation that’s been so drunk in love with a myth for 32 years, the 30 year old Lionel is their last hope. Their last canopy of illusion. One man making the bang-on average look spectacular by moments of wizardry, by moments of ingenuity.
And yet, as I write these lines I’m already expecting Messi to do a Genghis Khan in Russia and write his name off from one of the most henious and tragic injustice.
I am already picturing him holding the 18 karat breathtakingly beautiful world cup trophy designed by Silvio Gazzaniga in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. I am already expecting Miracles.
Yes, I’m well aware that this feeble Argentine national team, that has been so disastrous in the qualification stages stands no chance against the likes of world beaters in France, Spain, Germany and Brazil.
But, that’s the thing about Leo. For a guy who has so long been obsessed with the impossible, rationality and math don’t matter much.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.”