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

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I'm going to tell you the story of one of the best soccer players that has ever lived - the Superman of soccer.


RAY HUDSON: ...To Coutinho. Coutinho - this is - oh, it's Messi. Lionel Messi does it again.

You are watching possibly the greatest footballer ever at the absolute peak of his powers.

What? Are you kidding me?



UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #3: I don't think we've ever seen or ever will see anything like Lionel Messi again.

GARSD: Maybe you watched La Pulga Atomica play on his former team in Barcelona. It's like he's from another planet.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The way that he can just keep that ball stuck to his foot and then do what he does. I don't know - I feel like there's nothing this player couldn't do.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You see Lionel Messi on a team, and you expect that team to win every single time.

GARSD: And he's won a lot. He's won 36 major titles for his teams while playing in Europe. He has a record number of goals in the Spanish league and the most Ballon d'Ors of any soccer player.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #4: A near-supernatural goal for Lionel Messi.

GARSD: Now, I'm not here to tell you about this Superman's record-breaking hits in Europe. No. I'm here to tell you the story of the one thing Superman was never able to do. I'm here to tell you about Superman's greatest heartbreak.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #5: Lionel Messi - no, no, no. No, no, no. It's gone away. It's gone away.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: The greatest achievement you can have as a footballer is winning international trophies for your country. It just is a bigger legend than winning Champions Leagues.

GARSD: The one thing Messi has never been able to achieve is to win a World Cup for his home country, Argentina.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #6: And he's missed it. It's been saved.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #7: But there was a target area, and Messi misplaced it.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #8: Messi - even now, he can't get his goal.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #7: And he doesn't pick up the prize he really wanted.

GARSD: For most of his career, when Leo Messi put on that Argentina soccer jersey, things got really bad really quick.


UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #9: He missed it - just watching Lionel Messi put his shirt over his face. He's now crouched down, with his head on the field.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Through interpreter) He was sitting on the floor, curled up in a ball, shaking, crying inconsolably.


GARSD: Over the years, every time I would watch Messi play a big game for Argentina, I'd get really anxious - not just because I'm also from Argentina and I hated watching our team lose. It was a personal anxiety about what I knew happened after every game. A lot of people back home would get angry at him.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: His critics would say that he only cared enough to play well for the European clubs, that he'd left Argentina too young and now he was no longer Argentine.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: And the reason this rhetoric filled me with dread is that I, too, had to leave Argentina when I was a teenager, and it wasn't really by choice.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The national crisis has seen protesters taking to the streets, angry at the government's inability to end what is now three years of recession.

GARSD: As happens to many immigrants, as time passed, I would feel further and further away from home. And I was haunted by questions like, can I ever go back? If I do, will I be a foreigner in my own country?


GARSD: I know some people are going to say, Jasmine, chill out. Messi is an international superstar. He's got a great life. He's very wealthy. Don't try and make me feel bad for him. But one of the reasons I love soccer is because it's about so much more than a ball and a field with 22 players. And in this podcast, we're going to talk a lot about how soccer is a way to understand the world - class, race, immigration, colonialism.

Soccer is complicated. It can turn into an obsession, especially where I come from. It can devolve into violence real quick, and it can be riddled with corruption and human rights abuses. I mean, just look at this year's cup in Qatar. It's complicated because soccer can also be magical, joyous and freeing during hard times. Like, when I was a kid, soccer had the power to change the very suffocating order of my universe.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Singing in Spanish).

GARSD: I grew up next to a soccer stadium in Buenos Aires. Every time there was a game, tens of thousands of mostly boys and men would flood the neighborhood streets, singing soccer songs, drumming and fighting.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Singing in Spanish).

GARSD: For me, it was a rare chance to yell and scream and curse amongst men who otherwise mostly wanted me to be quiet.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Singing in Spanish).

GARSD: And when there was a goal in the stadium by my house...




GARSD: ...Grandma would run over to the ceiling lamp and hold it in place as it swayed back and forth because 70,000 fans jumping in unison always caused an unnatural earthquake.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #3: (Chanting in Spanish).

GARSD: But by the time I got to the fourth grade, I was taken out of the soccer field. It was seen as a sport for boys. I got ushered into the very practical handkerchief embroidery class. And I bet you anything a lot of those boys - they had the same dream - to make it big on a national team, to hear your name chanted like the ocean by the locals...


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #4: (Chanting in Spanish).

GARSD: ...While neighborhood grandmas like mine nervously hold their lamps in place. And then, if you're truly good, you get sent to the World Cup.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The World Cup is the creme de la creme. You know, every footballer will sit down and tell you that they will, 100 times over, give up all of their club titles, all of their medals, just for one World Cup.

GARSD: But Messi still hasn't brought a World Cup home to Argentina, and this is his last chance.


GARSD: This is his final World Cup.

I'm Jasmine Garsd. Welcome to THE LAST CUP. So much has been written and said about Lionel Messi and his brilliant career with Spain's Barca football club. This is a different kind of sports podcast. It's about the meaning soccer has for immigrant communities.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: And I actually went to visit just so I could go see the stadium - like, walk in the footsteps of where Messi and Maradona walked in that stadium.

GARSD: What soccer means to me and the role it played during the most difficult moments of my life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: I had a lot of resentment because I had to deal with the police. I was really, really angry about it for a long time.

GARSD: And what Messi's story tells us about leaving home and whether or not you can ever really go back.


GARSD: The next episode is now available in this feed.


GARSD: (Speaking Spanish).

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