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Lionel Messi reaches a crossroads in Qatar

Lionel Messi of Argentina throughout a press convention on the Central Media Heart in Doha, Qatar, on November 21.ALBERT GEA/Reuters

The primary time Diego Maradona obtained a great take a look at Lionel Messi, then 18, on the World Youth Championship, he favored what he noticed.

“Messi is a pacesetter and he is aware of the accountability he has,” Maradona mentioned.

For a person not recognized for taking it simple, that was one thing. Maradona was underneath stress for years to surrender his private stature to another, youthful Argentines. Messi grew to become his selection.

Through the years, Maradona can be questioned about Messi tons of extra occasions. In the direction of the tip, that concept had advanced a bit.

“He is a great participant, however he isn’t a pacesetter,” Maradona informed FOX Sports activities in 2018.

This graphic rationalization of Messi’s traits was given shortly after the final World Cup – one other stinker for Argentina. Maradona would later stroll it again, however everybody remembers that bathroom line higher than all of the gauzy reward.

If Messi isn’t holding a cup winner on the finish of this era, most of Argentina will agree with Maradona. Messi could have been good, however he wasn’t good in the way in which that actually counts. Maradona isn’t good.

There are various nice sports activities tales right here in Qatar, however Messi is the newest. For ten and a half years, he has been the embodiment of the game. He loves the world in a non-judgmental manner which will by no means be doable once more. His secret? Silence. When do you ever bear in mind listening to Messi converse?

On the uncommon events he does, he says nothing. Journalists stay on scraps it falls in paid gigs. Everybody came upon that this might be his final World Cup when he informed the Indian TV subsidiary of Disney – considered one of his many sponsors.

One other Messi supporter? Qatar. It really works with state telecom, Ooredoo. He can do double obligation on journeys to the Center East as he’s additionally an envoy for Saudi Arabia tourism.

However you will not see anybody ripping Messi for his enterprise connections. Greatness with out the should be heard makes you a particular sort of teflon.

Most of it’s sliding. Messi, 35, continues to be higher than everybody however somewhat, however nowhere close to the Messi of 10 years in the past. If that is his final World Cup element, it is going to even be his final likelihood. That legacy constructing is about to take a pointy flip, off in a single route or the opposite.

Win right here, and Messi is frozen on the high without end. There could also be higher gamers to return, however when individuals speak about them, they are saying “Messi, Maradona, Pele” and possibly in that order.

Lose, and nothing occurs instantly. However that is the beginning of an extended, sluggish journey right down to the higher center. Lastly, Messi’s contemporaries are Cruyff, Greatest and Platini. Magical gamers who couldn’t win the one necessary factor.

Then lastly, you are knocked off the A-list and despatched into storage with the cult heroes. What number of athletes are remembered from any period? Two, three?

What’s your tightest group image of twentieth century sport? It’s Muhammad Ali, Pele and Jesse Owens. You may argue about it, however when you’re trustworthy, there are solely half a dozen different names that deserve consideration.

If Messi needs to symbolize the twenty first century, he wants this. With out him, he is simply one other good participant. Historical past—the actual form, measured in many years quite than seasons—is the non-public protect of nice winners.

If Messi feels that stress, it does not present. Regardless of Maradona’s shot at him, he by no means exhibits his nerves in public. Messi was invited on Monday for a uncommon Q&A, forward of Argentina’s opener towards Saudi Arabia.

It was all a straightforward giggle, in all probability as a result of nobody ever asks him something arduous.

Consultant excerpt, from a Saudi reporter: “The entire Arab world loves Messi, together with me.”

Within the meantime, Messi mentioned nearly nothing. He appeared to stroll again on his promise that this might be his final time (“You by no means know.”). Regardless of rumors that he was carrying an harm, he mentioned he was “superb”.

Folks stored attempting to ask him how he was feeling, after which not believing him when he informed them he was feeling, you recognize, superb.

“I’ve been working, as I’ve performed all through my profession,” Messi mentioned. “That is the final likelihood to make our dream come true. However aside from that, there may be nothing particular. “

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When he left, the reporters waved hand in hand. Messi gave them a lift. He even high-fived some individuals. He loves his followers.

Maradona had an identical relationship with the Argentine media, however by way of a glass darkly. They hated him, as a result of he hated them first. However at any time when they let themselves into his presence, they might not maintain themselves again. I used to be at one press convention the place they needed to put up crash obstacles to stop reporters from placing Maradona on stage. A couple of nonetheless tried.

Messi evokes love, quite than wild ardour. He’s a technician, not an artist. There may be nothing unsuitable with him, however it has the impact of diminishing his humanity. He looks as if a pleasant, common man who has one superb reward.

It has additionally turn out to be a store by way of observe. It has been nearly 20 years since Messi ended, as a result of it feels longer. Like all gamers who’re actually good for a very long time, individuals have gotten used to it. They suppose will probably be round without end.

However that is the final word starvation. He may win extra skilled awards, however actually, who cares? He already has sufficient of those for 3 legendaries.

It’s what the World Cup wants. No matter how calm he’s, Messi should perceive that that is his final likelihood to finish all doubts. He might be Maradona however lighter and Pele however extra trendy; or it may be a soccer star whose identify your grandchildren will not acknowledge.

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