On November 29, 2020, in the 73rd minute of the Barcelona versus Osasuna match, a kind of 21st century Odyssey began before our eyes. That day Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini, when scoring a goal four days after the death of Diego Armando Maradona, paid him his own tribute by displaying the Ñuls shirt with which he had debuted in the Rosario team in 1993. Thus, within the framework of a duel that had become half Olympic (and scandalous, and controversial, and moralistic, and cracked and all the things that always surrounded the public conversation about Fiorito’s credit), the wait about what he was going to do Messi about it is over.
Tense waiting, it is worth clarifying, because the debate on the link between the two idols of the national franchise sport was always tense. Messi-Maradona was from the beginning the perfect territory where to place the troops of self-flagellation always ready in this country in which identity is boiled in brine. The truth is that with that gesture Messi placed himself, once again, in the place of the hero and began a truly exceptional story arc that culminated on December 18 of this year, on the pitch of the Lusail stadium.
A Rosario odyssey in the 21st century. Clean Just as the story of the seventh century BC began with a council of the gods where Athena asked for the return of Odysseus from Troy, the Argentine version had as its first hymn the death of Maradona and Messi’s acceptance of his legacy by the put on the red and black with which he played the famous friendly against Emelec with which he began the short journey through Leprosy. The explanation that Messi would offer months later on how he would choose that shirt, through an open door in his personal storage room, nobody knows by whom, would only increase his esoteric character.
The Odyssey is the mythical poem that narrates the return home of Odysseus and his troops after the Trojan War. It is a pioneering text and one of the most important in the fruitful genre of homecoming, the one that recounts the different seasons in a person’s life cycle and his exceptionality. So relevant to Western culture was this trope that it has countless productions in literature, music and cinema. The nineteenth-century novel, symphonic rock, road movies or westerns, all of them have a vast stock of stories about the hero and his journey through life. Why can’t football be thought of in the same key, perhaps the most relevant cultural artifact, let’s say, non-scholastic, since the 20th century in popular culture and in the sports mainstream?
It is obvious that the PSG and National Team player has a totemic dimension for football in particular and pop culture in general. It is unlikely that whoever reads this column today is unaware of his place as a world reference in sports and culture, on a par with Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods or Serena Williams. And, in turn, it is clear that his trip has excessive edges, (such as the beginning of his career, leaving his country at the age of 13 to play for a foreign club that was willing to finance fundamental treatment for his development), enough to synthesize its cycle in a couple of years.
But, for space and the need to stylize the argument, it is more than valid in the symbolic journey that began with his goal after the death of Ten. In fact, Homer’s own poem also started in the middle of the story, because something as gigantic as the return of Odysseus cannot be narrated in its entirety. In the case of Rosario, the previous one involves his tumultuous journey with the light blue and white shirt: that he did not sing the anthem with the national team, that he did not play like in Barcelona, the 4 lost finals, the resignation and return, all and each of the previous World Cups, in short, a process that today, from a distance, even cloys.
The following moments of the story of the Santa Fe homecoming cannot, of course, do without the delicate fit that Lionel Scaloni was able to make (with Chiqui Tapia playing Julio Grondona 2.0) between the generation of 2014 with a new litter that arrived thirsty for glory. On the other hand, it is important to note that he will participate after Russia 2018. Retirement for any player meant receiving a string of bitches from sports journalism for months.
In that sense, the assembly of the secondary characters in this story had an infinite number of outstanding edges, which are more similar to The Gallows Twelve or The Magnificent Seven than to a sports joust. The turning point occurred in the 2021 Copa América. The first official tournament played by the Albiceleste team now without Maradona and which was finally crowned with the title, a success that ended a drought of almost three decades for the major. There the heaviest backpack flew and Messi’s crying in the Maracana was, at one point, more heartbreaking than in Qatar: the time of the purge had arrived.
Then, of course, the undefeated long, the Finalísima against Italy, and of course the Qatar games themselves. The seven World Cup matches, as their own analysis unit, replicated the classic rise, fall and rebirth structure, with the failed start against Saudi Arabia. Even the final with France replied in its own structure, oh gods of Olympus, that of falling and getting up many times. A unit of insane sense was those almost three hours, with a perfect villain – the young and ambitious teammate of the twilight hero -, and the madman of the town giving his all in the series of penalties.
In short, a team that filled the Asian country with titans, soothsayers, giants, spirits and everything with the aim of taking the final victory longed for since 1986. Two years in which Messi and his Argonauts (if we are allowed to take another loan of Greek mythology, in this case the Golden Fleece) gave to the world, and especially to us, the most beautiful and dirtiest of mythological stories. The one that, of course, closed with Messi raising with that strange and kitsch cape typical of local tradition, the long-awaited trophy. The millions of people celebrating on Tuesday, December 20, no less, and putting on a live carnival from the brush of Brueghel the Elder were the beautiful corollary. The mob in ecstasy receiving their hero, a liberation of Paris without World War II.
The narrative arc described, if it were fiction, could even sound improbable, but it is not almost logical considering that it is about Messi. La Pulga, apart from playing well, has had a career characterized by a deep and sophisticated symbol production system. He is, without a doubt, a true semiotic beast, largely as a defense mechanism resulting from living in an ecosystem that has always been hyper-filmed and hyper-narrated. His personality was scrutinized from his adolescence to levels that, it is reasonable to assume, no one but him could understand and assimilate (or well, a certain left-handed footballer who began his career with Argentinos Juniors).
I’m sure that a little bit as a response to that fetish place that they gave him, he was defining in all these years a leadership opposed to the pop bonfire in which idols are supposed to burn before turning into a young corpse. A very normal reference with a way of managing the group sustained in small ruptures that are increasingly overwhelming. Leadership of the shy and focused, always half gone, but at the least expected moment he sends you to save it.
It is in the consolidation and improvement of this key (and not so much in the one of going “maradonizing”), that they will probably think of performances such as the “andá pa’ alla bobo”, the Topo Gigio or the gesture of kissing the glass on the route to receive the award for the best player in the World Cup. Value the clenched fist or the pursed lip, the one that allowed him to avoid the scapegoat seat so many times.
Without Homer’s pen, Messi somewhat synthesized in one of the many interviews his own odyssey with that of “life is stumbling, getting up again and trying again and fighting for your dreams.” It may be said that the sentence is a bit sweetened, but it is more than legitimate put in the mouth of the person who for almost twenty years had to smoke everything. From the operations of Mundo Niembro (and its suspicions, ESPN, Liberman, Azzaro, Vignolo, the short-eared I think he is the only one who was not tempted to give his opposite opinion) to the ambitious sociological and neurolinguistic lucubrations of feathers like those of Caparrós or Manes. A decade and a half being the body where the race to discover the national fault was run, legitimizes being able to think about resilience in that simple but effective way. To stumble and get up in someone like this is that millions of people talk about you, that scale should never be lost sight of.
Having made his normality, and his normal family, a refuge, is a fundamental part of going through Messi’s life. In times of the permanent monetization of private life and in an industry where the fall of the hero is absolutely profitable (and therefore so expected, to later fill piles of gossip programs) his comfort zone was the bed to “have some mates with Anthony”. In these days when there is so much discussion about the patriarchal nature of the players’ families (and the emphasis that some coverage places on it), this dimension should not be lost sight of, against the grain of its normality (beyond the fact that Messi is also, of course, , a billing machine).
The very fact of not having “finished like Diego” should be a more evident testimony of his bond with the one who argues for that look that today tends to see elements to “bury” Maradona (with everything that image covers). In the Montiel prison, the one who looked at the sky and asked for Diego was none other than Messi. You have to do a lot of curl to deny such filiation. In 2022 the old Maradonian ideology did not die, but a new one was born (the lyrics of the song Muchachos clearly show the multiple ways to fit one with the other). And this is the healthiest of all the feat that has just concluded: the refreshing. The risk of “Maracanization” of the national story is over, of remaining stuck to a success that happened decades ago, as happened with the Uruguayan victory against Brazil in 1950.
The feeling is that falling in love with the cosmic kite was giving diminishing returns in terms of building a memory. Even that beautiful thing out of a Fontanarrosa story that was the 90 World Cup was today more a nostalgic consumption of Boomers and X than an active reality in the minds of the under 40s.
With the end of the Odyssey that began in 2020, a new fauna was born, a new mythology, with its monstrous and perfect characters (on the 19th in Holland, Dibu’s save against France, the dance to Gvardiol in the semifinal, the DT of Arabia Wise and its bilge). A new canon that will be able to question the new generations for at least another two decades.
Not only are the specters of defeat gone after Qatar 2022, but also those of victories (which will always remain part of our pantheon, of course). It is possible that for this reason he hit D’Alessandro’s viral so much, that of the Argentine midfielders fly, because he put the renewal into words.
Nothing could be more marvelous for cultural history than the south wind that blew with the Scaleneta. Messi acted a bit like the Bizarrap of national football, as if he had needed him.
*Professor in History UNRN-UNCo.
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