Argentina and its ‘Messi-anic’ soccer hero

By Concepcion M. Moreno

Buenos Aires, Apr 7 (EFE).- Before being booed by the Paris Saint-Germain fans, Lionel Messi received that same treatment in Argentina.

Prior to being idolized at home, he was showered with adulation by the “cules” of FC Barcelona. And after being compared ad-nauseam to Diego Maradona, the soccer great finally shed that weighty burden on Dec. 18, 2022, by achieving World Cup glory of his own.

Those key episodes of his career and more are explored in detail in “Messianico,” a newly published “unauthorized biography” co-authored by Argentine journalist Sebastian Fest, a correspondent with Spain’s El Mundo daily for South America’s Southern Cone, and French reporter Alexandre Juillard.

In an interview with Efe in Buenos Aires, alongside one of the murals dedicated to the winner of a record seven Ballon d’Or awards, Fest said the idea for the book emerged in 2011 when the superstar forward – already a winner of five LaLiga and three Champions League titles – was jeered when playing for Argentina.

“That was unthinkable,” said Fest, who worked for 15 years in Spain and witnessed first-hand the FC Barcelona supporters’ deep and genuine affection for Messi.

The first edition of the book was published – in France, Spain and Latin America – between 2012 and 2014. Initially available in French and later in Spanish (with the title “Ni Rey Ni D10S” to indicate he is neither Pele nor Maradona), it was subsequently translated into Italian, Hungarian and Czech.

The French edition was updated in 2021, while Argentina’s 2022 World Cup victory was the trigger for this latest version of the biography.

The book delves into the role played by Messi’s family, his growth hormone deficiency as a young boy, the ins and outs of his professional career, the most influential people in his rise to superstardom and his leadership within the “Scaloneta,” the squad coached by Lionel Scaloni that conquered the soccer world in Qatar in 2022, eight years after Argentina fell just short at Maracana Stadium.

The authors call their work an “unauthorized biography” because they were unable to interview Messi, although they spoke to many of the most significant people in his professional and personal circles.

In his remarks to Efe, Fest recalled that when Messi exploded on the scene in 2005 Maradona, who had retired eight years earlier, still towered over the soccer landscape in Argentina.

“Messi couldn’t be Messi. He had to be compared constantly to Maradona. Messi’s starting point was Maradona. What’s happened now is that Messi’s starting point is Messi. Maradona is Maradona, magnificent, with all of his enormously positive aspects and his criticizable aspects, and Messi is Messi,” the journalist said.

Fest, who also is a contributor to Infobae, Forbes and Bild, said people around the world used to instantly think of Maradona when coming upon an Argentine traveler.

“Now, it’s changed. Now the people say, “you’re Argentine? Ah, Messi!!”

But the journalist said there are major differences between the two, contrasting the verbose and in-your-face Maradona, who died in 2020, with the soft-spoken and mild-mannered Messi and noting that even Brazilian soccer fans supported Argentina in Qatar after their team had been eliminated from the World Cup.

“That desire for Argentina to win the World Cup was the desire for Messi’s Argentina to win. It would’ve been different for Maradona’s Argentina,” Fest said.

The journalist said of the “Scaloneta” that it was a team that radiated joy and “something positive about us (Argentines),” adding that “the title in Qatar wouldn’t have been possible without Messi, for sure, but surely Messi wouldn’t have been able to win without that support and those players that he had.”

Fest said he expects that, barring injury, Messi will compete in the 2026 World Cup in North America. And considering how PSG fans have soured on the all-time great, he sees a possible future for him at Inter Milan or Newell’s Old Boys, his boyhood club.

The journalist, however, recommended that Messi make his next destination a Premier League club, saying “he’d enjoy himself there, and he deserves to have fun in this final stretch.” EFE


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