Being a legend is being vulnerable. Legends do not make mistakes unless they are legendary mistakes. They have to redeem them in epic ways. A legend’s mistake haunts an entire nation. It is one of those moments when you shoulder every dream, every wish, and every ambition as a nation waits for you to perform. A goal makes you the toast of the world. A miss and it is like history and the muses have abandoned you. At that moment of failure, there is no difference between a star and a kindergarten rookie. History cannot forgive you because deep down inside, you cannot forgive yourself. No excuse can redeem you because a nation knows the Gods have abandoned you. The body language says it all. The droop, the stoop, the tiredness of defeat is sculptured into every muscle. A moment of magic becomes a morass of misery. A festival of joy turns into perpetual wake. as a nation goes into mourning. History won’t let you revise time as you and the nation relive that one moment again and gain. Every replay puts you through the pain of that moment, the flaw, that moment of exquisite treachery when Gods abandon your years of victory becomes vicious with that moment of defeat. The superlatives of praise that surround you seem banal. You could exchange all those victories for the magic of this moment. Even years later as an old man, as you walk your city, fingers point to you and voices whisper your mistake. Lionel Messi, Argentina’s star footballer must have understood this as he flubbed the penalty goal.
A goal he had scored a million times in his sleep became elusive in real time. The pictures say it all. The body crumbles, the ego becomes frail, and your hands unfold into a prayer as you begin the long miserable walk back to the stands. Even children who live for you, dream of being you, dress and behave like you are cruel at that minute. Their Messi has messed it up. History suddenly changed track to favor another nation. That epidemic of football we call a nation — Argentina has been waiting for the Copa cup, in fact any major title for the last 23 years.
What makes history tantalising is it has been a history of near misses. Three in a row. Three epics of failure. Age catches up with you and at 29, the three misses, like the three witches, haunt you. Messi was in the Argentina team that lost to Germany in the World cup. Argentina lost to Chile in the Copa America last year and this year’s final produced a repeat performance. A legend like Messi might have won many titles but it is his defeats that determine his charisma in history, his mojo compared to other players like Pele, Maradona. Messi’s Gods have a vicious sense of humor. He has won eight La Lega titles for Barcelona and four Championship titles but when he plays for Argentina he remains victory less. Inevitably the questions begin to form. Is his magic captive to the club level? Why does it fail to work when he plays for the nation? Are his muses’ club gods who refuse to help his nation? The comparison becomes even more invidious. Legends like Pele or Maradona won trophies for their nation. Their pla
ce in the Valahalla of legends is intact. Messi has not quite made it. Suddenly his achievements shrink. He is lesser God next to these larger stars in the football firmament. It is not gossip that haunts but the ruthless objectivity of statistics. It hangs like a placard round your neck till you redeem it.
A teenage friend explained it to me. It is not like failure in an exam. A good movie can make you forget it. Nor is it like being ditched by your girl. Time can heal that or losing in a war because peace can redeem it. Rivalry in football is ruthless, unforgiving. Feuds cannot match it. When you lose in a football final, a nation dies with you. You carry the burden of million dreams of people who love you and idolise you. In their minds you cannot fail and in that moment of failure you shrink from God to human. This is the problem of the modern hero- half God, half human- He lives in a world of fans who want him to be the God-like forever. A nation waits in mourning and yet watching your wretchedness, it joins in solidarity to stand by you. A Messi must rise again. New legends, new games await him. He cannot be Achilles in a tent. His feet must dance to the next game. The world of if and buts must be demolished. Twenty nine is to early an age to fade away. History and Argentina wait for his return. The operas of hope are already murmuring a new song. No player can ask for more. His genius demands it.