The global superstars will retire in the coming years but there do not appear to be any obvious candidates to fill in their big boots.
The year is 2025. Donald Trump has just stepped down as President of the United States of America after his second term in power recently ran out. The world economy hit a new low in 2021 akin to the recession of 2008. Amazon is now the biggest firm on the planet having replaced Apple on the list two years back, whilst Bezos’ rival, Elon Musk became the first to put a man on Mars in 2023 using Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Industrialisation has been rampant and despite Trump’s repeated denials, studies into global warming have seen world temperatures soar by a couple of degrees over the last seven years. Football’s flagship tournament will make its comeback in the continent of North America next year for the first time since the 1994 edition and the Mexicans have a world-class team prepared for the biggest stage.
Everything has been running as routine, life has pretty much been the same for a couple of years now. Waking up at 8, commuting to work, punching letters and numbers on a machine in a cubicle, having lunch, punching letters and numbers on a machine in a cubicle again, returning home at 8, devoid of emotions like happiness, angst, anger and sadness as yjr bright lights of town, interspersed by periods of darkness pass by the window of the local train, going back to sleep and repeating the cycle over and over and over again reinforcing my view on Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence. Weekends are an odd escape, I can finally complete a good night’s sleep and go back to the only thing that has stayed in my life for so long apart from my family. Yes, good old football.
The farewell video posted by Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo
But there lies the catch.
While the game remains true to its perennial elegance and beauty and while technology has made further foray, something seems truly amiss. Something that had been deep rooted into the very existence of the sport for over two decades and for the better part of my life. Two of the biggest sporting icons of this century and certainly two of the greatest to have ever kicked a ball have hung up their boots for a couple of seasons now. Yes, Messi and Ronaldo have walked into metaphorical dusks on their careers. And for two years now, the Sun hasn’t shimmered its way past the clouds on the sky of football.
Accumulating ridiculous statistics and coalescing umpteen jaw dropping moments on the pitch over the course of an entire season has found its way into extinction and any chance of that feat being repeated for multiple seasons let alone, decades is a Class 1 impossibility right up there along with the likes of discovering means of teleportation of large enough objects, building anti matter engines or unlocking the physics behind psychokinesis, force fields and invisibility.
Club football every weekend is fun, but there’s less ‘get you jumping out of your seat’ moments now. Excitement, unpredictability and outrageousness has taken a steady downfall and has become saturated, consistent with values pre-2003. Both Barcelona and Real Madrid sell lesser shirts than they used to what seems like ages ago now.
Top 20 goals of Lionel Messi
The retirement of Messi and Ronaldo has taken the heaviest toll on the non-football watching crowd and they now find harder to blend in among groups since the two words they knew with respect to world football are gone.
To be fair, the game has become less polarised now. There aren’t household names anymore, instead there are multiple big names. Adidas and Nike have invested heavily into varied and different prospects since. Mbappe won the Ballon d’Or last year, his French compatriot Ousmane Dembele is on course to winning the top award this year but there are no more guarantees anymore unlike two names that were commonplace before. It has become much more of an open contest, yet nobody has managed to win it consecutively since the top dogs however.
Neymar and Hazard were tipped to be best suited to replace that dynamic dichotomy in world football, but let’s be honest here, they never stood a chance of replicating similar scales of astounding achievements, astonishing and awe-inspiring genius. And in my opinion, it was unfair to place such titanic expectations on them in the first place. You don’t expect the likes of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao to pull off something even remotely similar to what Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did and get away with it. You don’t put all your money on Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev to entertain you in the same way that Bjorn Borg- John McEnroe and Roger Federer- Rafa Nadal did.
And I have learned to make peace with the fact that for the rest of my life, I will not witness anything remotely similar. A tale where two athletes defied limits of nature, statistics, expectations and put on shows of greatness week in, week out, season in, season out. And that’s the thing about greatness – if it were so bourgeois, it wouldn’t exactly be great.
To have found myself along with millions and millions across the globe living in the golden period of football where a monster and a poet defined the sport as I grew up from a young, innocent kid to an adult trying to get used to the brashness of the world has been a beautiful experience, something I’d treasure with me for the rest of life. I have collected countless memories, tales to be discussed over a campfire on a hiking trip with colleagues from work and tales of era-defining greatness and artistry for my children and grandchildren.
These days I seek solace in the teachings of Heraclitus. One of the most important thinkers in history, Heraclitus preached that life is like a river. “The peaks and troughs, pits and swirls, are all a part of the ride. We can’t step into the same river twice. This is because the river is constantly changing. We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.”
And for a solution to the problem, do as Heraclitus would do – go with the flow. “Enjoy the ride as wild as it may be.”