Lionel Messi plays for the Argentine national team and moonlights with Paris Saint-Germain. His adventures at club level serves to sate his hunger, his professional pride.
He’s determined to win a fifth Champions League, and PSG are the outfit best-placed, it seems, to help him achieve that ambition. But make no mistake about it; his priority is his country. His relationship with Argentina is pure in a sullied world.
Messi has endured hardship defending his country’s colours. He was part of the team that lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany in Rio de Janeiro, as well as finishing runner up in the Copa America in 2007, 2015 and 2016.
He finally delivered success this past summer, leading Argentina to their first major title since 1993 by beating their great rivals, Brazil, in the final of the Copa America in Rio, the site of heartbreak seven summers past. He’s been a different man ever since; lighter, unburdened, joyous.
He went on a three-week holiday afterwards, sharing the good times he spent with his wife, Antonella, and their three children more openly than he ever had. He then returned to Barcelona, only to be told that the club couldn’t afford to renew his contract.
Days after that realisation, he was being presented at the Parc des Prince wearing PSG blue. A new adventure was on the horizon, one last dance. He debuted against Reims and then went on international duty with his beloved Argentina; warm familiarity in an uncertain world.
Argentina beat Venezuela 3-1 in their opening gambit in Caracas, before a diplomatic incident during their clash with Brazil in Sao Paulo saw the game suspended. The crescendo of this international break came on Thursday, however; Messi scored a hat-trick as Argentina beat Bolivia 3-0 in front of a home crowd in Buenos Aires.
His first goal was otherworldly; demonstrative of his sleight of hand, quick-thinking and lethal finishing ability. He cried post-game, overwhelmed by emotion and being able to finally present the Copa America to his people, finally following in the footsteps of the great Diego Maradona.
Argentina are now second in the table in South America’s World Cup qualifying group for Qatar 2022. Brazil are top, with five consecutive wins beneath their belt, six points clear. Argentina are three points clear of third-placed Uruguay, and look in good shape to not just make it to Qatar but make it to Qatar in full-flight.
After years of dysfunction, they now look to be a collective, a team, more than the sum of their parts. Messi’s driving ambition, now, is to lead them to glory in the World Cup, exorcising the ghosts of 2014 and emulating what Maradona did in Mexico back in 1986. It would be the crowning achievement to a glorious career, with many football betting tips believing it could happen based on the No.10’s prowess alone.
Messi’s still got it, don’t forget, even though he’s now 34 years of age. He won player of the tournament at the Copa America, contributing four goals and five assists. He scored 30 goals and provided eleven assists for Barcelona last season, one of the weakest Barcelona teams in recent memory. He’s wearing number 30 for PSG; he’s gone back to the root. Unburdened by past failure or the responsibility of a club centred on him, he’s poised for one last chapter. The rest of the world should be frightened.