Argentina's love for Messi has no strings attached

Updated on Dec 02, 2022 12:09 AM IST

Every second Argentine fan in Doha is in a Messi shirt and the reasons for that go beyond football.

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts during a match(REUTERS)
Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts during a match(REUTERS)
By, Doha

For over one week, Argentina supporters had absorbed that chant. “Where’s Messi,” was a rhetorical question they heard every time a group of Saudi Arabia supporters crossed their paths. Given the number of people here for the World Cup from Qatar’s neighbours, that slogan reverberated across Doha’s metro network. Payback time arrived on Wednesday after Argentina made the round of 16 as Group C toppers and Saudi Arabia were going home.

“Here is Messi,” said a man with a luxurious brown beard and in a Messi shirt of the colour the Argentina captain wore in the 2-0 win against Poland, Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez’s second-half goals capping off a convincing performance to set up a knockout round game against Australia on Saturday. The chant was picked up by Argentina fans changing trains at Musherib getting louder every time they saw a Saudi Arabian flag.

Every Argentine one spoke to over the past two weeks has been a Messi fan. Every second Argentine is in a Messi shirt. “We cried in the match against Mexico when Messi scored. We had uncontrollable tears. We were relieved and happy at the same time. And the person to make us feel like this was Messi. We love him so much,” said Emiliano at Lusail Stadium after their campaign was revived by the 2-0 win.

You will often hear “he is from another planet” echoing what 1978 World Cup winner Osvaldo Ardiles has said. But you will also get to listen to comments such as: “You can see the determination in him when he plays.” And as Martin put it after win against Poland where Messi missed a penalty: “Even Gods are allowed to have an off day.”

‘God’ said he was “frustrated” at the miss. “I knew a goal could have changed the match, make you play a different way,” said Messi speaking in the mixed zone as Wednesday melded into Thursday. “But I also think that from the penalty I missed, the team emerged stronger.”

Alvaro wasn’t in a Messi shirt preferring an Argentina jersey with no name. “For me, it is simple. Messi’s image of being a humble guy, almost one next door, is why I am a fan. He doesn’t appear to be the guy who earned a billion dollars in his career. He is the guy who cried while leaving Barcelona.”

Alvaro looked to be in his late forties and this is his fifth World Cup. “My son was one when we took him to South Africa He has now been to four World Cups,” he said pointing to a boy in a Messi shirt while exiting the Al Mansoura metro station.

Asked whether that was unusual among people his generation, Alvaro said: “Yes.” Among those of a certain age, Diego Maradona reigns. “He tamed England after the Falklands War.” You don’t have another reason for a country to rally behind an Argentine who humbled a nation that beat them in the war in 1982 but Alvaro said there was another reason. “Maradona’s personality. He was combative, aggressive always looking like he was fighting bigger powers.”

On the same number of World Cup goals as Maradona, eight, Messi has played one game more than him. “I think Diego would be super happy for me, because he always showed me a lot of affection,” said Messi. Having said, among other things, that Messi lacked personality, Maradona’s love was not unconditional though. But on his second death anniversary, Messi simply posted a picture of Maradona on Instagram. After Maradona’s death in November 2020, Messi had said: “Diego is eternal.” There are videos of him crying at Barcelona’s training after Maradona’s death.

Maradona’s death and winning the Copa America last year has taken a lot of pressure off Messi, is what journalists from Argentina here for the World Cup say. It also helped turn around the conversation of him winning everything for Barcelona- that led to him being called “Catalan’- and nothing for the country, they say. So far in Doha, love for Messi seems to be with no strings attached though not without the expectation that he will go a step further than 2014.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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