For Argentina’s triumph and Lionel Messi’s ethereal foot in it, there is only one word, and we use it with a nod to the great Ray Hudson:
In society and certainly in sports journalism we are commonly guilty of recency bias: Whatever just happened is the greatest of all time. But when the 2022 Argentina-France World Cup final was instantly minted as the best ever ... well, it was. Or at least it’s a must now for any discussion of the topic.
What we have just seen gloriously whets the appetite for the next men’s World Cup in 2026 that will include Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium among host venues as the United States, Canada and Mexico (but predominantly the U.S.) host what is the biggest sporting event on the planet.
Messi, 35, has said the World Cup just past will be his last. But has his still-elite-level performance in winning it changed his mind on that?
Has Messi on top of the world delayed his reported plan to join Inter Miami as Major League Soccer’s highest-paid player as early as next summer?
More on that in a second.
First, what we saw Sunday merits a bit more rhapsody.
Here’s the crazy thing. Deep into the match, the minutes high in the 70s and Argentina up 2-nil, I turned to my son in my family room and said, “This will go down as a boring final.” Because France to that point had done nothing. And superstar Kylian Mbappe was as quiet as excellence can ever be.
And then he wasn’t. And then Christopher and I spent the rest of the match standing to watch, unable to sit. How many times through squandered leads did Messi worry his first-ever World Cup win -- the final diamond missing from his legacy -- was slipping away?
Argentina’s penalty-kicks win after a 3-3-match through overtime was simply exhilarating.
Messi was crowned for all-time. His legacy did not need it as much as deserve it. Arguing whether Messi or Pele’ or Maradona is the sport’s G.O.A.T. is as unnecessary as arguing Picasso or Rembrandt or van Gogh, but to Hudson, at least, here is no doubt. Hudson, of course, is the former Fort Lauderdale Strikers star-turned-prominent soccer broadcaster.
“Messi surpasses them all,” he told us Monday.
The day before had been a sterling advertisement the sport deserves -- a repudiation to the old thinking that soccer is boring, the thinking of those who don’t know the game or watch it, but just like to complain.
“Thrilling and heart-stopping beyond belief,” Hudson called it. “The greatest final I have ever seen. And Messi, with that operatic high note. He took an escalator to the stars.”
Hudson watched the final home alone with his cats, as he does for all huge matches he does not attend.
“My Apple watch, when the second Argentina goal went in, was asking me if I’d been in accident,” he said, laughing. “Because I was just going [bleep]ing nuts.”
FIFA and host Qatar did not deserve such a World Cup or a magnificent end to it.
The sport’s world governing body’s corruption is what gave the World Cup to Qatar, a small country worth no great heritage in or passion for futbol, but a country with money. That is why a nation so brutally hot in summer the event had to be delayed was given the honor to host it.
That is why FIFA happily enabled the paid-for sportswashing of Qatar, which used the World Cup to help gloss over its awful record on human rights including the several hundred migrant workers who died building the stadiums and infrastructure Qatar required host the event.
(Qatar’s record on human rights may have led Grant Wahl’s brother to initially fear his brother had been killed after Grant died while covering the World Cup for CBS Sports. An autopsy later revealed the cause of death was a ruptured aortic aneurysm.)
As for Messi, he clearly is not ready to stop competing for Argentina on the international stage ... but what of his club future?
Where will Messi at age 39 be as the ‘26 World Cup in North America nears?
Still at Paris-Saint Germain? Back with Barcelona? With Miami in MLS? Completely retired?
We texted Inter Miami principal owner Jorge Mas -- “Who will move heaven and earth to get Messi,” said Hudson -- to discuss, but have not yet heard back.
This World Cup certainly has gifted Messi every option in the world.
It is hard for me to fathom the superstar winning a World Cup in December and by summer relegating himself to MLS.
“I did not, do not and cannot imagine that,” Hudson said.
But there is another possibility Hudson mentioned, an option freed up by Messi finally winning a World Cup.
“Maybe it’s time for him not to disregard the challenges but to do what he as a person feels now,” Hudson said. “He has accomplished everything. Maybe he thinks it may be time now to conquer America. And he’ll do it with handstands walking backwards.”
Lionel Messi is a man on top of the world right now, and a man with an oceanfront condo in Miami Beach.
That Inter Miami may have him before he retires is a dream, and a prize, grown bigger than ever.