Do you believe in destiny? 10/07 or 10th July. Ronaldo won Euro 2016. And Messi wins Copa America final 2021. On the same day! One wears 7 and the other wears 10. Both footballing elites. Jewels of their time. Destiny!
Do you believe in Gods? Diego Maradona. A God in his time. A God truly now. He was watching from above and in transcending the world, after transcending world football in the last century, you could almost see his hand, the hand of God, above Messi's hallowed forehead. One God blessing another.
Do you believe in angels? Emi Martinez saved three penalties. Years after their now god, Messi retired after missing one. And returning because he just loves the game so much. An angel scored on the night. Angel Di Maria. His first goal since 2018. Copa America final of 2021 - Messi, Gods, angels and destiny! If you were a football romantic, would you really have it any other way? Would you?
Copa America final: Leo Messi and broken dreams
Messi has brought Argentina within touching distance of universal and continental glory three times previously. Almost single-handedly. Perhaps not as much as Maradona. His hand was perhaps too literal.
But, on all three occasions, there has been a crushing heartbreak. The best player in the world and a lot of pain. The promise of the Holy Grail and then to realise it was all a dream. Crushed and broken. And each time, as if a cruel reminder of the pain, Messi was handed a Best Player trophy. A consolation handed to the magnum opus of our times.
And each time, his look would say - what am I going to do with this? This has no use to me. Take it back. Please take it back. I want the other one. The shiny one. The one in gold. I want to kiss it and hug and call it mine. What more do I need to do now? Where is the justice in football? It is almost akin to all those years of Messi playing for his beloved Argentina. Whatever happens, the ball finds its way to him. Almost disdainfully he plays a one-two. As if to say, this is useless to me here. Why are you passing it to me? There are nine other players.
Messi is usually a quiet person. Emotes very little and says even lesser. Perhaps that is why we associate his football to his expression. His dribbles stand for resistance. His through passes talk of hope. A goal teaches us about triumph. His body feints of escaping reality. Or perhaps, it teaches us nothing at all. Perhaps we are all reading too much into it. But, should we not? Do we not deserve to?
Copa America final: Leo Messi and I am sorry
And does the greatest artist of our time not deserve his trophy? No, not for any universal validation. Does Michelangelo need us to grasp the true depth of his works for validation of his greatness? Will the youth of today universally acclaim the true genius of Satyajit Ray's filmmaking? But, there is - even in Gods - a bit of flesh and blood. Just enough of human emotion to cry and long. To want something.
Messi, for far too long, had been a silent warrior for his nation. In the 2014 World Cup final, he collects the ball in central midfield. Armed by German gatekeepers of national pride and footballing honour, Kroos and Khedira and Ozil and Schweinsteiger try to stop the little man. He evades all. He always does. And then, he pirouettes himself slightly, looks up at the picture of the Maracana and down at the ball. All at once. Messi meets the ball with the laces. Not the entirety, just enough to impart enough backspin to set it over the defenders. But not for the ever charging Neuer to reach.
It is set up now. Surely now he has his moment. Maradona had Burruchaga. But... Oh no! Messi is alone. How is it possible? It is a team sport. But, it is not really because he did everything on his own. Higuain corrects this and says, almost everything. I had one job and I am sorry Leo. Hermano, I am sorry.
Copa America final: Leo Messi and Promised Land
And so, Messi needs no universal validation. He does not need any trophy or award to prove his genius. We have watched football and we know, in our hearts, there is nobody really like him.
He makes football beautiful, brings artistry to the game and expression in life. He makes you submit yourself, exclaim, "Wow!" as your eyes bulge wide open. And your palms stretch out because you cannot believe what you have seen. In that little moment you lose yourself, that is what football at its best can do. And nobody can do it as much, as often or in as much magnitude as Leo Messi.
Even then, there was a sense of incompleteness in Messi not winning an international trophy. A yearning for him to end any lingering debates. Debates that made no sense but for the sole purpose of purpose itself, and a need for storytelling and narratives to remain relevant there had to be debates. And even the debaters disqualifying Messi, tired and overworked to find evidence and statistics, irrelevant both, were yearning for his international triumph. Get it done with already Messi. In our hearts, we know already but stop it. We want to retire now. And we want to see you lift a trophy as the final, crushing and definitive nail in our coffin.
And then it came. At Maracana itself. The scene of crime in 2014. No more lo siento. Only bravo! And it happened with a more animated Messi. It was as though destiny was forcing a change. Something seemed different. Goalkeeper saving penalties. Defenders stopping attacks. Midfielders passing ball. And Angel Di Maria elevating a through pass from Rodrigo de Paul, Messi-esque in assist and goal, over Ederson.
Messi elevating himself to personal vindication and reaching a Promised Land long overdue.
Copa America final: Pain gives in
But why is all this so important? What does it do anyway? Football eventually cures nothing. It saves nothing and is eventually, only but fleeting. Gone too soon. But it gives momentary raison d'etre. And that is more important than anything else because nothing in life really is permanent.
When your first love breaks your heart. Your dream job passes you by. When you separate after a long marriage. After you fail at saving your close ones. Football, in this moment, one can never argue makes 90 minutes of life worth living. Like nothing else existed in the world and nothing will. Nothing else. No pain, no shock. No feeling of injustice and no heartache. Only a thrill and joy. So much joy!
That is what Messi does! Makes you forget it all and lose yourself. Totally weaken yourself in moments you have been trying your best to stay strong. Be in control. But, for those 90 minutes, he is in control and he takes you with him. He extracts your soul from your body and takes you on a universal tour of happiness. Around the world in 90 minutes. Makes you feel completely alive.
And so, one can never ever say that football does not matter. Never. Romance in football is inherent. If you have found it, you have lived life. If you have not, do not give up. Seek it still. Because it exists. It is true. And when you find it, you will never be able to go back. For that moment, you will feel invincible. That is football. Even if ephemeral, still immensely ethereal.