Cooney on soccer: The majesty of Lionel Messi

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A BIG MOMENT last night for your correspondent, as I finally got to cover Lionel Messi in the flesh for the first time. It was good to finally check it off the bucket list, before at least one of us finishes our careers at a good level.

Covering Argentina at this World Cup makes you realise that they are less a football team than they are an endless, magnificent expression of emotion, which in one way explains why Messi hasn’t always appeared to be their most natural talisman, certainly compared to Diego Maradona.

There are differences between them – if Maradona was all of Argentina expressed, Messi feels like it all internalised – but Messi is approaching a similar level of hero-worship now. Messi’s appearances are no longer football matches: they are pilgrimages.

It’s such a weird, fascinating contrast: no player has been asked to do so much at international level, and yet rather than consciously burden him, Argentina supporters worship him, chanting his name and literally bowing in supplication; palms-outstretched, they lower their hands as if welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem.

But maybe Zadie Smith was right when she wrote in her essay on Jordan Peele’s Get Out “that to be oppressed is not so much to be hated as obscenely loved.”

Gavin Cooney

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I took my seat early – thinking Messi might do something in the warm-up worthy of a paragraph – and watched him come out in that singular, slightly slouched trot of his for a wonderfully indolent tune-up.

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