Messi and the Tyranny of Maddening Expectations
It has indeed been a devastating experience for Argentinian fans with the sensational twin strikes by Kylian Mbappé in the opening game of the knockout stages in Russia.
But more importantly, the sense of hurt and loss that one feels as an ardent admirer of Messi cannot be emphasized enough.
When Greatness Won't Suffice
Argentina may have crashed out of the World Cup, but not without putting on a resilient performance in an encounter that many experts and pundits had already predicted would go France’s way. At 35, one could only speculate if the talismanic forward would be at the top of his game, four years down the line, and have another shot at replicating Maradona’s legacy.
Perhaps, this is the price one pays for being Lionel Messi. The aura surrounding his dexterity, precision, and split-second choices are what have been a longstanding subject of debate, speculation and above all, criticism. It has almost been a decade old, to be precise.
His sheer consistency in terms of goal-scoring coupled with his unique ability to come up with outstanding assists for the people around him, a skill set that even Ronaldo may be furtively envious of, results in a staggering range of maddening expectations that later or sooner becomes more and more disengaged with what Messi has achieved thus far, and focuses exclusively on what he hasn’t.
Well, the World Cup just happens to be one of them.
A Team Sport, You Say?
It remains one of the most classic, predictable, and somewhat unfair yardsticks for everyone who wants to rate Pele or Maradona above him. And the logic is decisively brutal. One could, of course, argue that if the two of the best players of their respective generations can win the World Cup for their countries, why can’t Messi?
But isn’t there a bit of wishful thinking involved here? It is not the Wimbledon or the French Open where a Federer or Nadal can weave some sort of magic even after everybody had written them off a long time ago.
The very fact that even the harshest of critics and detractors of Messi hold him up to such an unreasonable and virtually impossible standard demonstrates how even in a team sport the brilliance of an individual is expected to single-handedly influence the proceedings of a tournament, to say nothing of a match.
Don't Blame it on Him
The two impeccable assists against France would be routinely forgotten. The sublime touch, the measured control, and the spectacular finish against Nigeria won’t matter. Above all, his hat-trick against Ecuador, a solo effort without which Argentina wouldn’t have even made it to Russia, will just be a memory from the past.
And yet, when the World Cup fever will eventually subside, one can only marvel, in hindsight, at the sheer magnitude of entertainment that has been probably subtracted because Messi was not a part of the final stages.
While it is true that no player can be greater than the game itself, it is extremely hard to disagree with the fact that the absence of Messi will put the spotlight on someone else, who may not have dominated the game for over a decade or provided such regular, consistent, and unprecedented entertainment to an entire generation throughout the Copa Del Rays, the La Ligas, and the Champions Leagues.
And it’s only fair because that player will have had a better support system and a more organized set of players around him to see him through the tournament.
But to blame Messi for the wonderful opportunities that France created for itself, or the fact that they were a better side than Argentina, would be a calamitous lapse in judgment. More importantly, though, to question his commitment to the national side by invoking his stellar feats for Barcelona would be downright atrocious.