Ever since he was a young boy growing up in Rosario, Lionel Messi’s ultimate dream was to win the World Cup for Argentina.
He finally achieved that dream on Sunday, in the last World Cup match of his career, after a month that featured some of the finest individual moments fans have ever seen from the little magician.
Messi has never hidden his desire to win the World Cup for his homeland and it’s been a goal that has bordered on an obsession for much of his life.
That was evident in Qatar as he dragged his team through matches by sheer force of will and a little sprinkling of magic.
While Messi had previously stated this would be his final World Cup, the 35-year-old told reporters after Sunday’s penalty shootout victory over France that he intended to play for Argentina for a little while longer.
“Obviously I wanted to close my career with this, I can’t ask for anything more,” Messi told Argentine broadcaster TyC Sports. “Thank God he gave me everything. Almost finishing my career in this way is amazing.
After this, what else is there? I was able to win the Copa América, the World Cup … almost at the end. I love football, what I do. I enjoy being with the national team, the group, I want to continue living a few more games being world champion.
“It’s crazy, we really wanted it but it is the most beautiful thing there is. Look at what it is, it’s beautiful. I wanted it so badly. God was going to give it to me … we suffered a lot but we made it. I can’t wait to be back in Argentina to see how crazy that is going to be.”
“It’s the dream of every little kid, I was lucky enough to have achieved everything and what I was missing is here.”
‘The debates are over’
For large parts of his career, Messi had struggled to step out of Diego Maradona’s shadow, a man who was loved in Argentina for both his greatness and his flaws and who, ultimately, had delivered World Cup glory for the country.
Now, Messi has answered every question posed by his critics, according to Guillem Balague, football journalist and authorized biographer of Messi.
“It means that the debates are over,” Ballague told CNN Sport. “The [Cristiano] Ronaldo debate is over, the [Diego] Maradona debate is over, the best player in the world ever [debate] is over. That’s what it means. In terms of what he had done for 15 years, he was just the best player in the world.
“Try to equal the kind of consistency delivered at the top, the fact that he’s won so many leagues, so many Champions Leagues – Maradona didn’t – but of course now you’re going to start every sentence with ‘World Cup winner Leo Messi.’ The end of all debates. It is over. For his legacy, in a way it’s the end of an era.
“It finishes on a massive high of somebody that has delivered at the top. It has a sadness to it – it’s not just that he’s going, find me another Messi. Find me another player that’s like him, that is short, tiny, not the fastest, but can still manage to dominate the game and to influence the game.
“It doesn’t happen anymore. The coaches just get little robots, they want them to do a good job and he [Messi] just tears up the script every single time. He’s done it in the World Cup final. Nothing bigger, is there?”