“Messi’s World Cup: The Rise of a Legend” leaves viewers with no doubt who the greatest footballer of all time is

5 min

“I never imagined that my career would turn out the way it did and it would end like this. After all, I’m just a kid who loves to play ball.” 

In an age of numerous football documentaries, standing out from the crowd is difficult but from the very first intimate backstage scene, Apple TV+’s Messi’s World Cup: The Rise of a Legend, is an entertaining and moving account of one of the most iconic players to ever grace the game.

The four-part documentary not only showcases the redemptive and glorious achievement of captaining Argentina to success in Qatar but also examines the fraught journey that finally culminated in Messi becoming the undisputed greatest of all time.

Brilliantly interweaving the action of 2022 with flashbacks throughout his career, it acts as an exploration of how Messi’s status was continually questioned before being emphatically answered in a stunning World Cup final victory over France.

Messi’s World Cup: The Rise of a Legend skilfully follows his career from the shy Rosario kid who left home at the age of 13 to join Barcelona to scoring on his Argentina debut as a 17-year-old as well as constantly living in the shadow of national hero Diego Maradona. 

Born on June 24th 1987, just less than a year after Maradona lifted his one and only World Cup trophy in Mexico City, it is hard to ignore the parallels and the belief that Messi was somehow pre-ordained to become the second-coming of Argentina’s original football God.

“I always said Diego (Maradona) was the best, that he was a unique player and I would never compare myself to him”, a young Messi is seen telling viewers.

Yet Argentina’s entire World Cup legacy and soul is wrapped up in that 1986 win, captained by the legend that is Maradona – bringing a sense of mysticism to Messi’s own efforts to emulate his hero.

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After a number of failed attempts, wearing the famous No.10 shirt appeared to be taking its toll on the player, with Messi even briefly retiring in 2016 following a heartbreaking Copa America penalty shoot-out defeat to Chile in which he missed a decisive spot-kick.

Thankfully for football fans across the globe (and of course Apple TV+), the retirement was short-lived and, following Argentina’s inconspicuous 2018 World Cup, Messi, at the age of 35, was ready for one last attempt in the Arabian desert of Qatar.

The pressure to succeed, not just to equal Maradona but to cement his legendary status as the best ever is seen as palpable throughout, with Messi admitting: “This could be my last World Cup. My entire career has led to this one moment. Every match won. Every defeat. Every goal.”

The series also has an impressive array of talking heads, from past managers, teammates and pundits adding rich texture and insight to a World Cup journey which starts inauspiciously in the opening episode, ‘The Last Cup’, with a 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia.

Ahead of the game, Messi is seen staring into space on the team bus with all his hopes and dreams written on his face – something that is not lost on his teammates either, with midfielder Enzo Fernandez saying: “The team has always had the sense of wanting to win it for Leo, who has given so much to all Argentinians and to all of us as a team as well.” 

Was this tournament going to be another false dawn? Was the opening game defeat a case of Messi and Argentina over-thinking or trying too hard to achieve it?

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As Messi says, “It is never easy losing your first match. Your head gets full of doubts. It was a hard blow for us to start that way”. 

The second installment, ‘We Can Dream Again’, begins the morning after the Saudi Arabia defeat where the Argentinean camp is shaken yet Messi, as captain and leader, remains calm to give the side the motivation to put it right in their next group game against Mexico.

There, Messi inspires victory against a resolute Mexican team amidst the backdrop of footage from back home as anxious fans in Buenos Aires watch on.

The episode then closes with the 2-0 win against Poland to reach the last 16 where they subsequently see off Australia in a tight 2-1 encounter.

The penultimate episode, ‘The Weight of a Nation’, juxtaposes Messi’s 2014 World Cup campaign which saw Argentina lose 1-0 to Germany in the Final with a nerve-wracking 2022 Quarter-Final penalty shoot-out win over the Netherlands and a comfortable 3-0 victory over Croatia in the semi-finals.

‘Redemption’, the final episode in the tetralogy, focuses solely on the clash against France, arguably the greatest World Cup final ever, and adds extra drama by comparing France’s own talisman Kylian Mbappe to Messi.

The strength of Messi’s World Cup: The Rise of a Legend lies not only in the numerous personal interviews with Messi himself alongside those of team-mates, coaches, commentators and such like but in the loving way each 45-minute episode is crafted through a nostalgic lens of the players’ career up until the moment of triumph.

The result is a moving personal story of drive, dreams and redemption on the greatest stage of all, leaving viewers in no doubt the influence that Messi not only has on his nation but the entire footballing world.

All four episodes of Messi’s World Cup: The Rise of a Legend premieres exclusively on Apple TV+ from Wednesday, February 21st. 

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