Despite losses in the last two summers in major tournament Finals for Argentina and Lionel Messi, he somehow managed to keep his expression in check, as well as his disappointment. But by the third time last night at MetLife Stadium, the weight of the world, the internal turmoil at the Argentinian FA and the pressure seemed to collapse on his shoulders, and finally he could bear the weight no more. Whether he’s retired for good is a question for a later date, even though many in the world will have their doubts. But do these failures permanently mark Messi in terms of his place on the list of the world’s best players? Despite what some voices in Argentina will tell you, they don’t.
His club legacy is already secure, so no matter what he does between now and when he retires for good he will have left La Liga, Barcelona and world soccer forever changed and marked by his legacy. Whenever he stands over a free kick, the world moves to the edge of their seats in expectation, and when he makes those runs towards the penalty area, there is a sense of inevitability about what’s coming next. The same is true when he trades in the Barca colors for those of Argentina. In World Cup 2014, when Argentina needed saving from themselves, Messi came to the rescue with his trademark brilliance. Even in this tournament, his games against Panama, Venezuela and the US were masterclass performances that very few in the history of the game, let alone many if all of his contemporaries could match.
Sitting in Levi’s Stadium during the first meeting between Argentina and Chile in this tournament, the crowd’s expectation for Messi was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Di Maria, Higuain, Alexis, Vidal and others were all on show, and that marquee of names should have been enough for any soccer fan at that game to leave satisfied. But every five or so minutes, a loud chant for Messi would roar through the stadium, even though the same crowd chanting for him knew there wasn’t a chance he’d play because of his injury. There are so many great players in world soccer right now, but so few of them would elicit a reaction like that. This is what Messi brings with him wherever he goes, not to mention the pressure that follows right behind.