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Why Lionel Messi’s World Cup success matters to non-football fans

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Anyone who knows me knows I shut down during matches where I’m emotionally invested. A sporting event featuring your favourite athlete or team can be stressful, so I turn off the TV and social media and check the score afterward.

I only need to’switch off’ during tennis (and before the 2010s, to cricket). From the minute Lionel Messi’s Argentina walked the field against France in the World Cup final, paralysing terror loomed.

At 75 minutes, with La Albiceleste 15 minutes from nirvana, tensions rose. Messi couldn’t recover if he lost from there. I watched Netflix to kill time.

It’s not that easy. Kylian Mbappe’s goals quickly roused me from my self-imposed coma. I quickly realised I couldn’t escape this one, so I sat through every single minute of Argentina’s chaos.

It was everything I could do to keep watching the penalty shootout. Gonzalo Montiel’s winning shot felt unreal. After seeing Messi collapse and be swarmed on by his teammates, it hit me: he’d done it.
Nothing should have mattered to me, though. Football’s finer points are beyond my understanding. I almost cried when I saw Messi curled up like a baby with a smile.

I wasn’t the only non-football fan moved by Messi and Argentina’s success 24 hours ago. I’ve never seen so many people happy about a sports result. It seems the whole world has gathered to crown the King.

Messi’s importance: First, Messi’s small stature makes him even more mysterious. He’s a master who still looks like the Rosario youngster and frequently defeats football’s heavyweights. You’re hooked.

His labyrinth runner moves are extremely exciting.

Messi often disappears during games. You scan the pitch for him, hoping to be surprised by his skill, but you can’t find him. Experts say that his ability to bide his time, visualise his surroundings, and wait for the proper opportunity to create his positional advantage is part of his genius. To casual spectators like myself, his abrupt arrival in the action looks like a magic trick. h aesthetics. One look at Messi on the field is enough to persuade anyone he’s no ordinary footballer. The effortlessness of his dribbling, the hypnotic way he flows around defenders, and his nonchalant touches of genius are enthralling.

Messi’s off-field behaviour helps his legend. He’s small in size and temperament. He rarely makes outlandish press comments or behaves badly in public.

Messi is no Rahul Dravid or Dominic Thiem. His tax evasion scandal isn’t ended yet. But his claimed harshness is rare, and tax evasion is a forgiving offence.

Messi is admired for his sportsmanship and humility. When you’re so good at your profession and so artistic, just not doing anything terrible is enough to put you on a pedestal.

Here, comparisons to another sports genius become clearer. Roger Federer, like Lionel Messi, has spent the last two decades inspiring awe. Like Messi, the Swiss is considered polite despite having made arrogant comments.

Both Messi and Federer have global fan bases. They’ve transcended their sport by combining artistry and achievement. Their victories elicit flowery eulogies; they’re media darlings for a reason.

Messi’s supporters outnumber Federer’s because football is more popular than tennis. Messi’s relatability also helps.

Federer’s style and eloquence inspire awe and love. The Swiss are generally considered ethereal, untouchable beings. Messi? We own Messi.

I’ve said that fans view sports stars like parents view their children. Messi’s case is especially true.

He’s the mischievous youngster with a growth problem who keeps out of the spotlight and simply wants to play football. Messi’s almost everything makes you want to protect and fight for him, regardless of his age or success.

I wanted to punch every troll who criticised him after the 2014 World Cup final. The 2016 Copa America penalty miss (and following retirement flip-flop) made me want to ask every meme-maker what they’d done to mock him.

My anger wasn’t limited to haters and trolls. I cursed Gonzalo Higuain and Lautaro Martinez more than any athlete when they wasted chances (well, except maybe a certain rape-accused player).

Messi didn’t need my silent seething; he was great without it. Sport isn’t only about the athletes on the field, though. It’s also important how players make fans feel and leave legacies beyond statistics and records.

Messi’s records and stats are undisputed. He’s won 11 domestic leagues, 4 European Championships, 7 Ballon d’Ors, a Copa America, and now the World Cup. Why wouldn’t you root for a player with so much glory, like Messi?

Rooting for him while he tried to win with his people was never easy. Messi’s campaigns with Argentina were gruelling, despite his Barcelona success.

When Mbappe equalised and Randal Kolo Muani nearly put France through, I thought Messi wasn’t meant for World Cup triumph. This time, his failure appeared worse than ever.

Messi tried his best to overcome eight years of misery, but it wasn’t enough. He was superhuman in Qatar for seven bouts before being reminded of his humanity. Losing 2-0 and 3-2 would open new, more agonising wounds and break even the strongest of us.
But fate intervened. Messi’s teammates rose to the situation in the penalty shootout, and catharsis was reached. The next few moments seemed to pass quickly, yet they will be played on repeat for years to come.

Messi kissing the World Cup trophy while holding the Golden Ball was iconic. As was the clip of him being hoisted and doing a winning lap. Given the past, these images resonated with everyone. For a little while, everyone loved Messi.

Messi kissing the World Cup trophy while holding the Golden Ball was iconic. As was the clip of him being hoisted and doing a winning lap. Given the past, these images resonated with everyone. For a little while, everyone loved Messi.

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