The G.O.A.T. Get His Cup

Adrian Barragan, Staff Writer

It was a long and brutal wait. A 20 year wait. A Copa America title, 7 Ballon d’ors, Golden Boots, an Olympic gold, multiple La Liga titles, and 5 FIFA World Cups played before he gained the shiny crowning jewel of his career. The first one to be achieved by Argentina in 36 years, from the ages of the greats such as Diego Maradona. 

Lionel Andres Messi was born in Rosario, Santa Fe in Argentina. He loved soccer and wanted to be a professional when he was a kid. He soon joined a kids’ team (Newells Old Boys) and in 6 seasons Leo scored over 500 goals. 

By the time he was 11, he needed to take growth hormone supplements because his body stopped growing. He was far too short for his age. Fortunately, scouts from the famous Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona found him and offered money for the treatment and the chance to play in Spain. The land where soccer rules.

Lionel Messi first started with Barca’s legendary youth team (La Infantiles) and then advanced to the senior team. Messi played with some of the greats including defender Carles Puyol, striker Thierry Henry, midfielder Xavi, and the legendary Brazilian striker, Ronaldinho. 

This was the start of Messi’s professional career. Ronaldinho was a father figure in sports to young Messi. He sacrificed so many easy goals for him which brought his goal tally with Barca up to 672 in 778 games in 22 years. Apparently, Ronaldinho told his friend, the late Kobe Bryant, that Messi had great passion and skill and eventually he would be the greatest soccer player of all time. But did the prodigal son have a rival?

Cristiano Ronaldo. The star captain of Portugal has knocked in over 800 goals and 200 assists. He has won the UEFA Champions League, Ballon d’ors, FIFA Club World Cups, for gosh sake the man has an airport named after him. He has played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, Juventus, Man U again, and finally, just a few months ago, wealthy Saudi club Al Nassr signed him. He has one of the largest accounts on Instagram, one of the wealthiest soccer players in the world, and is 38 years old. However, he has never won a World Cup.

2014 was a good year for el capitán de los Albicelestes. (Nickname for the National Football Team of Argentina). Argentina had persevered to the World Cup final that year against Germany. It was a rough game. Ten fouls on each side and two yellow cards on each side. It was scoreless until the 113’ (extra time) when Germany’s Mario Gotze knocked the ball in the goal past Sergio Romero (GK). And the saddest part is that Messi missed a free kick that would have changed the board, but it didn’t. 

Just three years later, Messi married his childhood sweetheart Antonalle Rocuzzo. They have three boys, Thiago, Mateo, and Ciro. What is amazing is that Thiago and Ronaldo Jr. are exactly 869 days apart. The exact same number as Lionel and Cristiano are.

Leo stuck with Barca through thick and thin 20 years before starting a new era. Neymar from Brazil left Barcelona. And Messi, the captain of Argentina, (with emotion and regret) left Barcelona in 2021. All of them formed the dream team of strikers at one of the wealthiest soccer clubs in the world (Qatar oil money), Paris-Saint-Germain

It was a bad first season for Messi at PSG. His goal per season average went down, he didn’t know the language, and it was completely different. His goal per season average took a sharp drop and he didn’t play as well. It didn’t help that morale wasn’t that high after PSG lost the previous Champions League finals. Though this season Messi has been doing amazing. In Ligue 1 he’s scored 11 goals and had 10 assists in 19 matches. 

And by the way, a new star was shining in the constellation of the greats. Kylian Mbappé. This kid grew up in the poor suburbs of Paris and clawed his way fighting for the ball and proving his potential to the world. He was scouted at the age of 13 by Real Madrid and met his idol Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinidane Zidane there. He was acquired by AS Monaco, a French Ligue 1 team. If soccer was a video game he either broke it, beat it, or changed the code. Whatever he did was revolutionary. The youngster (18) proved his potential in the Round of 16 against  Argentina of the 2018 World Cup when he got the ball and just ran. He clocked in at around 30 kilometers per hour that one time. That was the start of the beginning of the age of Kylian Mbappé, future King of Football. He won the World Cup that year but underachieved in terms of titles at PSG (who signed him soon after his WC win) the following years. Though, he’s only scored about 150 goals in 7 years in the Ligue 1. 

And in July 2021, Messi lifted his first international trophy. The Copa America against Brazil in the final. He faced his good friend Neymar in the final. And it was in the Maracana, the legendary Brazilian stadium where many greats have played. The only goal scored was in the 22nd minute by Angel Di Maria with an assist from Rodrigo de Paul. It was just a sign of what was yet to come for Messi.

2022 was a good year for Messi’s international record. Argentina had their best team since Maradona’s 1986 World Cup win. With a young goalie prodigy Emiliano Martinez, three amazing young strikers (some were subs), Messi led the charge in the World Cup. With a depressing and upsetting first game loss against Saudi Arabia Messi upset Mexico and Poland and won both dos a cero, 2-0. Meanwhile, France was steamrolling every team they faced led by Oliver Giroud and the infamous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Face Kylian Mbappé they crushed every team as Argentina was winning. It seemed that the 2 superpowers were speeding to the final showdown in the desert. In the end it came down to France and Argentina. Master dueling Apprentice. Emperor vs. heir. In other words Messi pitted against Mbappé. 

It’s a cool and dry night in Doha, Qatar. Messi says a quick prayer and Mbappé is looking at him distastefully. The teams walk up and sing their national anthems. The two superpowers shake hands, flip a coin, for possession and the game starts. It was an amazing game from the beginning. Messi scored his first goal in the 23 minute. It was a penalty. It was amazing. The goalie dives to the left and the ball slowly (avg. mph for pk’s are 70mph) but steadily rolls into the goal. Then just 13 minutes later Argentina’s Angel Di Maria scored a goal. It was beautiful. They played it from their half. It was a series of amazing crosses and first touches that led to the fast and goalkeeper-obliviating shot. Everything was going until the 80th minute when Argentina’s Otamendi dragged down French player Kolo Muani. Mbappe was awarded a penalty and amazingly, converted it. It just barely brushed off of Martinez’ hand. Just two minutes later Mbappe scored the most beautiful goal I’d seen in the tournament. It was an amazing thing to watch; a header, beautiful passing, and a pop-up assist led to Mbappe scoring leg out, on the ground 20 feet from goal. Once again off Martinez’ hand. In 90+4 Randal Kolo Muani was about to win the world cup for the second time in a row for France. There was one thing that stopped him. Golden goalie Emiliano Martinez’ beautiful lucky left thigh that single-’leggedly’ saved Argentina from world cup defeat. We now enter extra time as both head coaches, Didier Deschamps for France, and Lionel Scaloni for Argentina rally their teams for a few minutes before the start of the end. 

113th minute. Lionel Messi was just minutes away from soul crushing France. He sent his seal of disapproval to Mbappe for winning 2 consecutive world cup finals in the most elegant way possible. A light touch from his toe in the air that he sent into the goal and then out by France’s Upamecano. There it is. After a rapid VAR check the goal is certified. It seems as if Leo Messi, the young boy from the shanties of Rosario, Argentina, who traveled half the globe to fulfill his dreams, 7 Ballon d’ors, and most every title yet, won the world cup wearing the jersey of Maradona. The Argentinian. 

Messi went off with his classic fingers in the air celebration in honor of his late grandmother Celia was mobbed by his teammate as he ran to the touchline. Argentina breathed a sigh of relief as France exhaled a sigh of despair. 

116’. Argentinian left back Gonzalo Montiel receives a yellow card after shifting his body and getting a handball. Mbappe takes the awarded  penalty. Mbappe smashes it in! France has equalized with Argentina. Mbappe gets his hat trick!! Now at age 23 Kylian Mbappe has scored the most goals in a world cup final! You can see the look on the team’s face. The team is absolutely exhausted in the last minutes of the match, but there is still a flicker of hope in Messi’s eyes as he recovers and recuperates from the harsh emotional blow that Mbappe dealt him after that penalty. 

We now enter the most strenuous mental assault of the game on players. Penalty kicks. Mbappe first. The Frenchman converts! The GOAT Lionel Messi scores next! Emi Martinez blocks Kingsley Coman with a strong diving save to the left!  Paulo Dybala scores! Tchouameni misses! Paredes scores! Kolo Muani scores! It’s 3-2 now in penalties. Argentina in the lead. The World CUp is 1 kick away from Messi. Gonzalo Montiel is up. The same man who gave Mbappe the last penalty. He steps up to take the shot. He scores with a nice top left power shot as Argentina win the world cup! Messi collapses and falls to his knees as Montiel and Messi are mobbed by their teammates. Montiel went from nothing to everything for Argentina. Mbappe is squatting on the ground in a cloak of sadness. France is 2nd in the world.

Lionel Messi has done it. The young boy born in a poor city in Argentina, the young boy who had to take shots to grow up, and traveled an ocean to pursue his dreams and leave behind everything has done it. That night in Lusail Stadium, Qatar,  Argentina were crowned champions of the world. Leo Messi finally lifted the trophy, eventually letting out tears of pure joy. 

What is next for the champion? He has literally won everything but just a handful of awards. Well, PSG isn’t exactly working out. After getting eliminated in the Champions League Round of 16, and Neymar missing the rest of the season with an injury, it seems Messi is leaving. Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr FC rival Al-Hilal FC, American Inter-Miami FC, and his top pick, Barcelona are ready to offer Messi a great deal of change. If Messi goes back to Barcelona, he will play with one of the most complete sides, yet underwhelming since years back. In a friendly with Argentina a few days ago Messi scored a legendary free kick against Panama in the 89th minute. From outside the box. It was his 800th career goal. Even the players in the free kick wall were amazed. So what do you think? Is Lionel Andres Messi the greatest soccer player of all time?