Lionel Messi has one last chance to win the World Cup, this is his story : La última copa/The Last Cup As Lionel Messi rose up the ranks of the storied Barça football club in Spain, he dreamed of winning a World Cup for his home country. But up until recently, playing with Argentina's national team has proven to be this soccer superman's kryptonite. For most of his career, Messi has wrestled with the disappointment of the home crowd after each devastating World Cup loss. Over time, his connection to his own country has been questioned after spending time abroad.

What can Messi's story tell us about the cost of leaving home, and the struggle to return?

Examining Lionel Messi's past as he faces a final attempt at winning a World Cup

Examining Lionel Messi's past as he faces a final attempt at winning a World Cup

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María Jesús Contreras for NPR
An illustration of Lionel Messi standing in front of cheering Barcelona fans and jeering Argentina fans.
María Jesús Contreras for NPR

Listen to The Last Cup on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. Escucha a La Ultima Copa en español en Spotify o Apple Podcasts.

For some, soccer is a sport. For others, a religion. But either way you look at it, it's transcendent.

"Soccer was a constant in my life, as it is in the life of many Argentines," said NPR correspondent and The Last Cup host Jasmine Garsd. She grew up in Buenos Aires near a soccer stadium. The sport provided Garsd the rare opportunity to yell amongst men and boys who otherwise wanted her to remain quiet.

Jasmine Garsd as a child in Buenos Aires Jasmine Garsd hide caption

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Jasmine Garsd

Jasmine Garsd as a child in Buenos Aires

Jasmine Garsd

And while the roars of those cheering fans still verberate through her memories, so do the memories of leaving behind the only home she knew at the time.

Like many other Argentines, Garsd and her family weren't immune to the country's economic collapse in the early 2000s. After losing their jobs, her family emigrated to Southern California when she was just a teen. And though Argentina was in her rearview mirror for now, her love for soccer — as well as its legends — never strayed too far.

One of those legends is "the Superman of soccer" himself, Lionel Messi.

Lionel Messi's immigrant dilemma

Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates after scoring the opening goal during a match between Argentina and Bolivia as part of South American Qualifiers for Qatar 2022. Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Pool/Getty Images

Lionel Messi of Argentina celebrates after scoring the opening goal during a match between Argentina and Bolivia as part of South American Qualifiers for Qatar 2022.

Pool/Getty Images

Messi is one of the most celebrated soccer players of all time. He's scored the most goals in the history of Spanish soccer and has won a record seven Ballon d'Ors, which are essentially the Oscars of soccer. But there's one thing he's never been able to do: win a World Cup title.

The soccer icon left Argentina for Spain around the same time as Garsd. After several years on FC Barcelona, he eventually made his debut on Argentina's national team. But, like Garsd, his relationship with his former country had shifted.

"Every time I saw Lionel Messi try and go back to our national team and fail, every time I heard about how hated he was — how people accused him of being a foreigner, I asked myself the question so many immigrants are haunted by, 'What if I can never go back home?' "

This question serves as the beating heart for the multilingual podcast The Last Cup/La Ultima Copa. The title refers to what is likely Messi's final attempt to bring a World Cup trophy home to Argentina. The series also explores Messi and Garsd's parallel immigrant journeys, as well as soccer, to give a profound look into what home even means when you have to redefine it.

Home is not always a place, it's people

Like many other Latinos, Garsd found a piece of home in soccer. And while some may view it as "just a sport," it also serves as a mirror — reflecting back the parts of society that have made it so popular. "Soccer felt like such a through line to tell these different stories about class, race, immigration and life," Garsd said.

These nuances are explored heavily in the series. From the sport's evolution and money-making power, down to the way Latin American players are getting exported to Europe younger and younger each year.

"We also explore 'soccer dreams' as an equivalent to 'hoop dreams,' " Garsd said. "Which in societies that are really stuck in a very discriminatory system, soccer is like this dream of advancement — this idea, this myth, that very few people make it. But the myth is that if you're good enough at soccer, you can get ahead in this deeply unfair society."

Jasmine Garsd with her grandmother in Buenos Aires. Jasmine Garsd hide caption

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Jasmine Garsd

With all its complexities and complications, The Last Cup ultimately tells a different kind of sports story. One that represents the various ways in which soccer mirrors our realities.. And while there's no avoiding tragedy within those slices of life, Garsd also made room for Latino joy and quirkiness.

"I know soccer can be problematic in many ways, but I also understood it as a space for feminism," she said. "And I also understood it as a space for joy — for people of working class backgrounds and for non-white people, and that's important. That was important to me in this podcast — to allow a space of joy as well."

As for whether Garsd can ever reconcile with living in the hyphen between homes, Garsd — like many other immigrants — has found a new way to define the word.

"I think home is no longer a physical place, it's people," she said. "Maybe that's a conclusion a lot of us immigrants and non-immigrants come to. Home is people who love you and care about you. Home is really an immaterial place at a certain point when you've had certain experiences. Making this podcast has been an interesting, digestive process."


Listen to The Last Cup on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Escucha a La Ultima Copa en español en Spotify o Apple Podcasts.

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