As the phrase of the day goes, Lionel Messi "completed" football in December. He won his first World Cup with Argentina, and at that point, he'd won everything: leagues, cups, league cups, Champions Leagues, Copa Americas, Club World Cups, UEFA Super Cups, a World Cup, Ballon d'Ors, Golden Balls and every other designation that's plated in a precious metal. No longer did his legacy really warrant comparison to any of his fellow soccer players; no, the only others whose career achievements stacked up to Messi's were the greatest-ever athletes in other sports.
His triumph in Qatar was so total and so barely believable -- an opening loss to Saudi Arabia, a near capitulation to the Netherlands and a back-and-forth 3-3 final with two goals from Messi and three from his presumed best-in-the-world successor, Kylian Mbappe -- that it sometimes felt pointless we'd even keep going as any newcomer who'd watched the final would forever be disappointed; soccer is, mostly, boredom. The games, and especially finals, were not like that. And with all the unlikely narrative currents that converged in Doha, Qatar, on Dec. 18, 2022, they'd never be like that again.
The months since have proved the point. Together, Messi and Mbappe went out meekly to Bayern Munich in the round of 16 of the Champions League. The latter looked intermittently threatening; the former struggled to have the domineering effect he'd managed to muster at the World Cup.
A few weeks later, Messi missed training to visit Saudi Arabia, PSG suspended him and we reported that he'd be leaving the club at the end of the season. To top it all off, mere months after Messi brought an entire nation to a near-literal standstill, angry PSG supporters marched to the club's headquarters and demanded that he be gone. He returned, apologized to the club and its fans, and he's back in training with the season ending later this month.
Now, his options appear to be to play in a league no one cares about, join a team that has never finished higher than 12th in MLS or rejoin a club that probably can't even afford him.
How did we get here?