Everyone had a theory about why Lionel Messi was underperforming last season with FC Barcelona and the most accepted one pointed at his need to outshine everyone in the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.
It was the only stepping-stone between him and Diego Maradonas legacy. If Messi could lift the World Cup in Maracana, he would forever be remembered as the best footballer of all time. And so it made sense that he would be saving up for such an important date.
But it turns out he wasnt. Or if he was, he actually forgot to turn the power back on and be the player who drove the planet mad just a year before.
Messi didnt have a bad World Cup. By anyone elses standards, 4 goals and the FIFA trophy as Best Player of the tournament would be enough to call it a day and go back home as a hero. But not for Messi.
The Argentine did not score a single goal in the knockout stages of the tournament, and his goals, albeit important, came against minor rivals, the likes of Bosnia Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria.
After that, Lionel Messi disappeared into the player who has been walking on Spanish soccer pitches since he came back from rehab last January. Its a non-decisive Messi; a Messi who stands on the pitch as if mopping for no apparent reason; a Messi that is not worthy of the title of best player of all time.
At this point, his trophy as Best Player of the tournament is widely questioned as being wrongly awarded to the Argentine.
The fans and pundits who were hoping his performances in Spain were just a calculated tactic to reach the World Cup in an infuriated state of footballing genius and enough gas on the tank to carry the entire Argentine squad on his back to victory did not deter from their thinking until the very last moment.
Even after a very quiet and uneventful round of 16, quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, they still hoped, and prayed: Hes been saving up for the final, they thought.
And Messi reached the final and actually ran.
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In the first 10 minutes, he showed a glimpse of the player he used to be, the one who lead Barcelona to victory, who captivated hearts as far as the planet is wide, who won three Champions Leagues and four Golden Ball trophies.
His first play against Hummels showed he meant business, he was in the final to win it. Argentine hopefuls congratulated themselves, as it seemed the prodigal son had returned, and he was just in time.
But nothing farther from the truth.
It was very apparent, very quickly, that the Lionel Messi in the final was the same Messi who had failed to impress all year long.
The one who couldnt rescue Barcelona against Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Liga nor in the Champions League. The one who couldnt rescue Argentina against Belgium nor against Holland. Messi was the same sad specter of his old self, just aimlessly pacing himself around the field for the best part of the 120 minutes of the match.
Argentina had a good performance in the final, but the team needed Messi to beat Germany and he didnt show up. Perhaps he was saving up all year, and he just didnt turn it back on in time. Perhaps he was never really saving up, and hes issues lay deeper within his physical and his emotional state.
His last minute free-kick shot was the clear image and best symbol of his World Cup performance. The shot was far out, and it would have made sense to cross the ball into the box and look for a winning header. But Messi needed the glory for himself, and he tried to cut corners to achieve it.
The poorly executed shot flew high over Neuer’s goal, Germany was crowned champion of the World and the Argentine star’s face showed the discontent and impotence he felt, knowing full well he had missed his chance to become the best of all time.
Well never really know exactly what is wrong with Messi, or if the player we once knew and loved will be back. But in the final against Germany, Argentina was Mascherano and ten other players, not Messi and ten others, and thats perhaps the main reason why Germany is celebrating today and not the albiceleste.