When the crowning moment came, after an epic World Cup final, it was not the blue-and-white striped Argentina shirt fully visible on Lionel Messi.
Handed a bisht – a traditional black Arabic cloak – to wear by the Emir of Qatar ensured this defining moment of Messi’s career will forever be linked with this first Middle Eastern World Cup.
Messi – the most illustrious employee of Qatar-owned French team Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) – finally added football’s biggest prize at 35.
It was the picture-perfect ending for Qatar after a 12-year World Cup journey from bid to final at the Lusail stadium – the centrepiece of the country’s £200bn transformation for this month-long extravaganza.
“I craved this so much,” Messi said.
“I knew God would bring this gift to me. I had the feeling that this was the one.”
Destiny was fulfilled for a player who had won every major European and world club honor with Barcelona even by the time Qatar was so controversially awarded this World Cup by FIFA in 2010.
About more than just career longevity
For Messi, it’s been more than about career longevity.
This final showcased his enduring genius – adding two more goals to the end of Qatar 2022 with seven goals and three assists.
The penalty that put Argentina in front midway through the first half ensured Messi became the first man to score in every knockout round of one World Cup.
There was a majestic Messi flick during a flowing counterattack that ended with Angel Di Maria sweeping in the second before half time.
Argentina would have reeled for decades at the prospect of throwing it all away had it not been for the shootout success.
France were overwhelmed for 80 minutes without having a shot on target until Kylian Mbappe scored twice in two minutes.
Only the fingertips of France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris prevented Messi from claiming glory before regular time was up.
When Messi did scramble Argentina back in front in extra time, still they had to recover from Mbappe completing his hattrick from the spot.
And in the shootout, neither Mbappe nor Messi saved themselves to claim the shot of victory.
The PSG teammates turned international rivals took their team’s opening penalties.
But the two French misses proved costly. Argentina scored all four.
‘Can’t wait to be back in Argentina for the insanity’
Messi was able to leave the World Cup stage without regrets.
No need to rue the missed opportunity in the 2014 final. No need to force a return trip in four years at 39.
The rest of his career – one of the greatest of all time – can play out with a sense of satisfaction, however long he stays on the pitch for.
Messi in numbers
Southgate to stay on despite World Cup exit
Just like Diego Maradona with Argentina in 1986, Messi will forever be a world champion – unlike great rival Cristiano Ronaldo with Portugal – and a footballing immortal.
Messi – just like Ronaldo – didn’t need a World Cup win to prove his legendary status. Picking up the trophy just confirmed it.
Now to party.
“I can’t wait to be in Argentina to witness the insanity of this,” he said.