It was always going to be his day.
Sometimes, you can experience the weight of the world on your shoulders, feel as if you’ve got nowhere else to turn, and generally be a little bit miserable. But one moment, one exterior factor, one flap of a butterfly’s wing can kickstart your thirst for life.
It appeared that the world’s greatest player, Barcelona’s very own genius, had fallen out of love with the beautiful game. And for the neutral, there could be no worse news in the football world. That is, until the greatest player to have ever graced our game, sadly passed away on Wednesday.
Now, that news certainly hit us all extremely hard. But few will have been hit harder than Lionel Messi. The superstar, who drew comparisons to his national compatriot throughout his career, was tipped to become the next Diego Maradona, and played most of his career under those pressures and expectations.
Eventually, he stopped being the next Maradona, and became the first Lionel Messi.
Sunday afternoon was the first occasion that the little superstar had taken to the field since Maradona’s passing, and perhaps this tragedy helped him shine a light on his own issues and his personal dissatisfaction in Catalonia.
On Sunday, he was a very different player to the one who has moped about for the past couple of months. Finally, for the first time since declaring his intention to leave the club, Messi played football with a smile on his face, and the look in his eye of a man aiming to honour his hero’s memory.
What better reason to set your differences to one side, than to put on a show in homage of the man who only knew how to entertain, and won countless trophies and plaudits as a by-product of his brilliance?
Messi played against Osasuna like a little boy in the playground, lost in the game without a care in the world. It was wonderful to watch. He was back.
Handed the keys to the right flank once again, Messi looked much more at home than in the deeper midfield position he has occupied in recent weeks. The Barça team had a much more balanced feel to it, with Philippe Coutinho in his favoured left-wing role, and Antoine Griezmann causing mayhem as a number 10.
Far less square pegs in round holes, and it worked. Their 33-year-old talisman was back to his very best in the 4-0 win over Osasuna, floating around the right flank, drifting inside and creating so much room to wreak havoc with that magical left foot.
It took until the 30th minute before Barça got their breakthrough, and of course, Messi was at the heart of it. The Argentine picked up the ball near the halfway line, picked his head up and picked his spot, arcing a beautiful ball to the left flank for the onrushing Jordi Alba.
Showing a fire and hunger that has been missing for some time, the playmaker charged into the box, hoping to get on the end of Alba’s cross. The ball did fall into his path, albeit above head height, and in a cheeky tribute to the great Maradona, Messi threw up a hand and almost punched it into the net.
Luckily, he missed. But his moment was still to come.
Collecting the ball midway inside the Osasuna half, Messi broke through the midfield, danced, shimmied and dummied through a number of challenges, and then found himself on the edge of the penalty area on his deadly left foot.
No mistake. Not today. The forward curled and crashed a strike into the far top corner, and whipped off his shirt to reveal the Newell’s Old Boys jersey which Maradona would have worn back in the day. It was one the great man himself would have been extremely proud of.
As he pointed to the sky, face tilted towards the heavens, he perhaps said a little prayer and thanked the God who undoubtedly inspired him as a child.
Messi has got his mojo back, and as one great leaves us, another has made his return.