When Lionel Messi has retired, we will look back on the year 2021 as one of the most important in his career.
While the Argentine has had much more prolific campaigns than his final one at Barcelona, the last few months have seen us witness two things many would have doubted. Winning a title at international level, as well as moving clubs.
Indeed, Messi’s trophy drought with Argentina was often used as a stick to beat him with.
Whereas his great rival in Cristiano Ronaldo managed to win the European Championships in 2016 with Portugal, the Barcelona legend had struggled to get over the line in finals in both the Copa America and the World Cup.
Blaming him for that was, of course, unfair given some of the structural problems the Argentina FA have endured over the years. Still, such is the toxic nature of the Messi vs Ronaldo debate, little in the way of nuance was ever cast into the discussion.
So, the sight of Messi finally lifting the Copa America trophy little under a month before he moved to Paris Saint-Germain was one of the defining images of his latter-day career.
At long last, he had ended that particular hoodoo and was voted the Player of the Tournament alongside PSG teammate, Neymar.
Speaking to ESPN over the international break, Messi has talked of the relief he felt after leading his country to their 15th title and the first since 1993.
“I have peace of mind of having achieved the dream that has been denied to me so many times,” he said.
“It was like a dream, a spectacular moment. I couldn’t believe it had happened. I enjoy watching the images now more than at the time as I was in a daze. I didn’t quite understand what was happening.
“A part of the media treated us as failures, saying that we didn’t feel the [responsibility] of wearing the jersey, that we shouldn’t be in the national team.
“We tried to be champions before, we were the first ones to want to. It’s very difficult to win a World Cup or a Copa America.
“At the time they didn’t value what we did, they only put emphasis on the fact that we didn’t achieve the aim.
“The important thing is to feel satisfied that you have given your all. Luckily, the last time [final] was different.”
At 34, the 2022 World Cup will surely be Messi’s last international tournament. Boosted by the Copa America win, perhaps he will go one step further than he did in 2014.