“It was amazing. Everything changed for me that day. We finally got what we had dreamed of so much, the thing I’ve wanted for so long in my career. And it finally came at the end.”
Lionel Messi gave his first interview after winning the World Cup, where he talked about his feelings and reactions during and after the tournament that gave Argentina its third world championship and Messi’s long-awaited win. ‘It was a lot more than I had ever imagined, and what I had imagined was a lot”, he said.
In a conversation with Argentine radio host Andy Kusnetzoff in Perros de la calle, Messi covered a lot of topics, including the huge expectations for him to finally win the World Cup for Argentina.
“Everyone wanted their country to win, but as they got eliminated, those people started to root for Argentina, because they wanted me to be world champion. I heard that so much, both before and after the World Cup. I felt people wanted me to win this. I can’t explain it, because there was never something like this, or at least I don’t remember anything like that,” he explained. “All that energy, and everyone wanting this, that’s what made this happen,” he added.
The Paris Saint Germain player also mentioned the sense of relief after Montiel’s last penalty goal sealed the deal against France. “It’s hard to explain what you feel in that moment. So many things in your head. You’re like gone, enjoying the moment, you can’t believe that we finally got it. You really can’t explain how it feels: that’s it, it’s over, it worked, I got everything with the national team, just like I always dreamed,” he recalled.
The sense of relief also extended to his family, Messi said. “There was so much suffering, because there were times when I suffered a lot with the national team, the finals we lost, being so close without it finally happening. I had so much criticism in every way possible. And my family suffered just like me, or even worse. And we closed that circle by winning the America Cup, the World Cup, and that’s it, there’s nothing left to win.”
During the tournament, said the world champion, his mood was nevertheless relaxed, even the night before what is now considered the greatest, most gripping final in the history of the World Cup. “I was calm, I slept very well. I was very relaxed, I felt we were fine, that we were doing everything that needed to be done in order to get it, so we were very calm”, he said.
The aftermath of the match was also covered in the interview, including him kissing the World Cup before he was allowed to touch it. “I had to do that. The Cup was calling me: ‘It’s over, come for me and grab me, now that you can’. You know, technically you can’t touch it or look at it or anything. I saw it there, shining in that beautiful stadium, and I didn’t think, I went to kiss it because I was right next to it.”
Messi also compared the scene with the iconic, award-winning photo of him staring at the cup in the aftermath of Argentina’s defeat to Germany in the finals back in 2014. “That will always be there, but it’s such a comfort to have gotten it after passing so close to it. It doesn’t go away, but it’s now just on the side.”
“I don’t like what I did”
His viral reactions after the match against The Netherlands was also a topic of conversation. “It was a spur of the moment. I knew about what they had said before the match, even some of my teammates showed me what Van Gaal had said,” he said, referring to the former Netherlands coach’s comments about Messi’s allegedly bad performance at the last match with Argentina in 2014. Van Gaal had also said that in the event of a penalty kick shootout, his country would have an advantage.
“I don’t like that, I don’t like what I did, but those are moments of so much tension, so much nervousness, and everything happens so fast, you don’t have time to think, so you react the way you do,” he said, referring to his hands-behind-the-ears gesture after the Netherlands game –a way of saying “Let’s hear it now”.
“It wasn’t planned, that’s just how things unfolded. I don’t like putting that image out, but these things happen”.
On a more joyful note, Messi also mentioned the celebrations in Argentina, where a record-breaking 5 million people hit the streets to welcome the national team. “I saw the happiness in people’s faces, adults, kids, all ages. It was unexplainable, you could see their faces, and for us it was just always the same as we moved forward, the same happy faces, it was crazy”, he said. “And the best part was the way people behaved, five million people and nothing happened. Something could have, with people swarming bridges, a guy who even jumped to try to get on the bus,” he laughed.
Watching viral videos of the celebrations is still a habit for Messi. “I saw a lot of videos, I get choked up to this day watching people celebrating, families, groups of friends who gathered to watch the matches, and how they cheered in the final penalty kick. To this day, I keep watching them, and they are so moving”.
“I am so grateful”
A catholic, Messi even took time to talk about his relation with God, saying that he prayed to him in the final minutes of the game. “I talk to him all the time, I thank him, I ask him for the wellbeing of my loved ones. Once in an interview with [sports journalist] Martin Arevalo, I think it was before 2014, I said that I knew God would give me a World Cup. And after Brazil we were so close. I felt he had been saving this one for me, I think he was waiting for the right moment, and there was no better moment than this one, just like the America Cup. If I had to choose a particular time to win the World Cup, I would have chosen this one too. Near the end of my career and closing the circle of my professional stage. I thank him every day. I can’t complain and I can’t ask anything else from him, because thanks to him I have everything. I am so grateful”.
When asked what 35-year-old Lionel would say to his teenage self, he answered, “I would tell him that something extraordinary is on the way, something he can’t imagine. I’d tell him that his career will have a beautiful path, with hard moments he will have to overcome, but he should never quit, because he will be rewarded, and in the end, it will be just like a movie with a happy ending”.