Why Leo Messi should lift the World Cup tomorrow and why you should care
Messi is the G.O.A.T. – the Greatest Of All Time
He has won everything under the sun as a professional footballer, League titles, Champions Leagues, and all major awards, including seven “Ballon d'Or” titles, more than any other footballer. On top of that, he has broken all of the goalscoring records.
He is missing just one thing:
The World Cup
As I write this on Saturday, December 17th, 2022, the world is preparing for the Final of the World Cup to be played tomorrow in Qatar between France and Argentina, the latter captained by Leo Messi.
Regardless of what happens tomorrow, in my eyes, Messi has earned the right to be named G.O.A.T. not just because he is a great player more because he is a rare type of great leader.
He displays three outstanding traits:
He has shown resilience throughout his life, overcoming a debilitating growth disease as a child called Growth Hormone Deficiency or GHD. From the age of 11, he had to show grit, persistence, and resilience to become the player he is. Early in his career, he was often ridiculed because of his size and had to learn to take the abuse, live with it and stand up for himself.
He also trained hard to make up for his lack of height. In fact, his short stature has become a crucial part of his weaponry, allowing him to weave and dribble past opponents more easily.
On the sporting side, despite phenomenal success at club level, it took 16 years for him to finally win an international tournament with Argentina - the Copa America. Again despite being slated and criticized by opponents and fellow citizens, he managed to stay the course.
“I start early and stay late, day after day, year after year. It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success.”
As a player, he not only scores goals but works selflessly for his team (he has more assists for other people’s goals than any other player in history). He steps up when it counts. Not only does he give others the pass to allow them to score, he often gifts them goals he could score himself in order to pick up their confidence.
In 2015, despite being in a tight race for the Golden Boot against Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona was awarded a penalty with Messi on a hat-trick.
New signing Neymar was still struggling to make his impact on the team, and despite the score being 7-0, Messi gave him the spot-kick, which the Brazilian put away. He has repeated this numerous times with other teammates low on confidence. Not only must captains great players, but they must also be able to bring out the best in their teammates: especially in instilling confidence where it’s lacking. Leo Messi does just that.
Most importantly, his fame and ability don’t get to his head. He shows:
Leo Messi is an unusual captain because he is not a loud, chest-beating leader. He is quieter and more reserved. He is a superstar who puts his teammates first.
I got an insight into his character when I met the great man.
It was April 2009, and on a warm Spring morning, I was speaking at a European Finance conference in a large luxurious hotel near the Nou Camp, the home of FC Barcelona. At the lunch break, one of the attendees from Turkey approached me excitedly and said
“Peter, downstairs in the restaurant, some of the Barca players are having lunch. Leo Messi is there. He is my hero! As you speak Spanish, could you somehow get me to meet him?”
Now my first thought was absolutely not! I am not interested in hunting down famous people or getting their autographs or photos. However, I could see how much it meant to my Turkish friend, so reluctantly, I went down the stairs with him to the restaurant. We slipped in quietly and stood quite awkwardly at the entrance as we were the only two people dressed in dark suits in what was otherwise a very relaxed atmosphere with people dressed casually.
Sure enough, there at the back of the room was a long table with a large group of young men seated having lunch. I spotted that some of them were from the Barcelona team. Alexis Sanchez, in particular, was making quite a bit of noise, causing the rest of the group to laugh at his comments.
In the corner sat a quite diminutive-looking figure. It was Leo Messi.
My colleague tried to push me forward.
“Peter, there he is! Go ask him if he will let me take a photo with him!”
I looked at the table of footballers. I looked at my Turkish friend, who was by now almost dragging me toward the group. Then I muttered back.
“No way! Look, he is having lunch. And he is stuck behind the table. He can’t get out easily. We shouldn’t disturb him; it is just too intrusive.”
As I was about to leave the restaurant while removing my colleague’s hand from my arm, one of the men stood up and approached us. I thought he would tell us to clear off, but instead, in Spanish, he asked.
“What’s up? Do you guys want something?”
I responded in an embarrassed manner.
“Listen, my friend here is from Istanbul, he has come all of the way from Turkey to see Barcelona play, and he is a massive fan of Leo’s. He would do anything to get a picture with him, but I understand that we are completely out of order coming in here and….”
The other man interrupted me.
“No problem! Leo is always fine having photos taken with his fans. Let me ask him. Come over.”
We approached the table, and to my amazement, Leo Messi wiped his mouth, put down his napkin, and squeezed past the two people on his right to come out from behind the table.
“I am sorry to disturb you, Leo, you are having your lunch and all, but my friend here is a big fan,” I blurted out. “Thanks for coming over.”
“Encantado de conoceros!” (Great to meet you) beamed Messi, shaking us both warmly by the hand.
We then chatted for a few minutes about where we had come from, the game on Saturday, and the upcoming Champions League final that Barcelona would be playing against Manchester United. I served as a translator for my star-struck Turkish friend, but by now, I was also feeling the same sensation. Messi told us that he felt good. In fact, he felt in the best form of his life and that the current Barca team he was playing under Pep Guardiola was the most incredible team he had played with.
Finally, we asked for a photo, Leo kindly agreed, and with my dodgy Blackberry, one of the group took the snap that heads this blog post.
We shook hands again, and my Turkish friend and I left the restaurant.
We had our photo - Mission accomplished!
More than that, though, I now knew what a charming, likeable, and humble person this great man, Leo Messi, was.
Back to today, on the eve of a World Cup final, as an Englishman, it feels strange to be backing Argentina in tomorrow’s game. I can still feel the pain of that Maradona’s unforgivable “Hand of God” treachery against England 36 years ago. Or Diego Simeone’s boot inflaming a young, naïve David Beckham to a red card and another unfair world cup Argentine win in 1998.
On top of that, I am a Francophile and have many French friends. At least when beaten by France a week ago, the reason was Harry Kane’s right boot rather than any cheating from the “Les Bleus.”
Last night I had dinner with a couple of Argentinian friends and saw the expectation, excitement, and nervousness in their eyes that I enviously hope one day I will feel before a World Cup final with England (some hope!)
They do have every reason to hope. Argentina has Leo Messi, a great player, and an exceptional leader.
I realised I too was with "La Albiceleste".
If you value his example of humble, selfless leadership, and unless you are French, tomorrow you should be backing Messi (and Argentina) to lift the World Cup.