Argentina united in belief as Lionel Messi aims for final moment of glory at World Cup 2022

Argentina united in belief as Lionel Messi aims for final moment of glory at World Cup 2022

On a Twitch live stream last week, Spain manager Luis Enrique suggested it would be unfair if Lionel Messi ended his career without winning a World Cup.

Enrique was speaking with a personal connection, naturally, about a player he coached for three seasons at Barcelona, winning LaLiga twice, as well as, in 2015, what remains the most recent of Messi’s four Champions Leagues.

But he is, of course, wrong. There is no divine right to success, even for those blessed with powers that mortals could only dream of. Discussions over who deserves what are for pithy subjective matters, like the Ballon d’Or.

If Messi is to lift the World Cup at the fifth attempt, the moment will be all the more special for the jeopardy and, indeed, likelihood of it never happening at all.

Messi’s previous four World Cups have covered just about every base, from his debut as a teenager on the periphery to three successive campaigns burdened by hopes of a hungry nation and the expectation that comes with being the world’s best player.

In 2014, Messi produced on paper his best World Cup to date, his four goals dragging Argentina out of the group stage and eventually securing the Golden Ball award, though that verdict was hardly unanimous. Lifting the trophy in Brazil would have been the ultimate, but the story ended in heartache in the final against Germany, Argentina’s conquerors for a third tournament in a row.

Russia was, perhaps, the nadir, Messi’s occasional flashes of brilliance enough to wrestle a team in chaos under Jorge Sampaoli into the last-16, but not past eventual winners France, as reports of leadership rows and dressing-room spats swirled.

The picture could hardly be more different now, as an Argentine squad with more balance than any of those four predecessors prepare for tomorrow’s opener against Saudi Arabia.

Eyes on the prize: Lionel Messi. (AFP via Getty Images)
Eyes on the prize: Lionel Messi. (AFP via Getty Images)

A first Copa America triumph since 1993 last summer has lifted a monkey off Messi’s back and emboldened the supporting cast, with Lionel Scaloni’s side arriving in Qatar unbeaten in three years.

Cristian Romero, fit again having sat out Tottenham’s last four Premier League games before the World Cup, and Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez provide the kind of centre-back partnership a top-heavy squad has been screaming out for for years.

Even shorn of Giovani Lo Celso through injury, a midfield of Atletico’s Rodrigo De Paul, Juventus’s Leandro Paredes and Sevilla’s Papu Gomez provides the platform for a forward line that includes Lautaro Martinez and Angel Di Maria, alongside Messi, who is in his best form in years. Already this season, the 35-year-old has 12 goals and 14 assists in 19 games for PSG and 11 in seven games for Argentina since the start of the year.

Messi remains the main man, but this side is built and united around him, Argentina no longer reliant solely upon their captain for deliverance.

There is every reason to suspect this might, finally, be Messi and Argentina’s time — but remember it has nothing to do with him or them being due.