Life is messy. How the World Cup 2022 was a perfect reminder of the messi-ness of our existence.

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Life is Messi…ah yes, that too!

In the wake of the 2022 Football World Cup Final that was held in Qatar, we witnessed the embodiment and the worldwide broadcast of how and why life is indeed truly messy. The event was at once divisive, diverting and divine. To start with, we had the handwringing that went with FIFA’s selection of the undemocratic country (Qatar) with its questionable work practices, treatment of immigrants, and an altogether defiant position with regard to the western topics of diversity, inclusion and equality. The equation pitted ethics against money. And, what would you know, money won! Secondly, there was any number of huge upsets (notably in the pool stages where, incredibly, Saudi Arabia beat Argentina and Japan slipped by Germany), lively debates about the quality of the refereeing, and the suspicions of corruption. There was the Cinderella story of Morocco, the first Arab or African country ever to make it to the semifinals. For Morocco, there was the question for the supporters of their affiliation and ability to put bygones into the past, and the balancing act to warrant full scale support from all of Africa and all of the Arab countries. To say the least, it was a messy kinship. The same kind of question was posed for the French team, the returning world champions. Thirteen of the 17 players who featured on the field for France (and 19 of the squad of 25) were black. When France went up against Morocco in the semifinals, it seemed like a rather existential play-off for many French citizens of North African descent. Who to support? Who am I? To the extent integration has remained problematic and France has struggled to define itself, the semifinal appeared to take on real significance for those of us interested in national identity and questions of immigration. 

Finally, there was the final itself. The titan Lionel Messi, heralded as possibly the greatest player of all time, was playing in his fifth World Cup, for the only major trophy to have eluded him in his illustrious career. The last time Argentina won the World Cup was a year before Leo Messi was born. This was a showdown that didn’t disappoint between two stars of football. Up against Messi was the young French star Kylian Mbappé, 24 years old, who scored a hat-trick (all three goals) in the game and then confidently knocked in the first penalty of the penalty shootout. The venerable 35-year-old Messi, meanwhile, scored two of the three Argentine goals in the match and also successfully converted the first penalty in the shootout. You could  consider this matchup any number of ways, including between the young (Mbappé) and the old (Messi), the north and the south continents, developed versus developing countries… It was, to say the least, a breathtaking final. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Messi was a masthead “influencer” plastered on many lavish outdoor ads in London, supporting Qatar’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia. 

As far as the final itself was concerned, France was always chasing the score, first levelling in the last ten minutes of regulation with TWO goals. Then, in the dying minutes of overtime, Mbappé came to the rescue again, to bring the score back to even after a second Messi goal. Ultimately, the match was decided on penalties (a sign is that our sins must always be paid?). In the end, Argentina was victorious, scoring all four of its penalties, while the French missed two of the four that they took. The French goalkeeper and captain, Hugo Lloris, always considered a poor penalty stopper, didn’t fail expectations in this regard, failing to stop a single Argentine penalty. If the penalty shootout is a cruel way to lose and requires a bit of luck, the fact is that loss and pain are part of life. How you deal with it, manage the journey, is what it’s all about. And it’s bound to be a circuitous, up and down road. In my book, You Lead, I wrote determinedly about how we should forge a leadership, in the face of the messiness of life and human relations. I described in the following manner, the speech I delivered in Paris on September 18 2001, in front of 500 top executives of L’Oreal, after having witnessed the events of 9/11 front row just a week before:

“I gave what I feel was perhaps my finest performance, even though it was messy. Or perhaps because it was messy.” Later I wrote, “We’d better accept that it’s a messy world and embrace the duality, conflicts and paradoxes. Indeed, I subscribe to the messy life. 

So, yes, life is Messi. And unlike it might seem for Leo, we don’t always get everything we want. It requires hard work, skill and a bit of luck. And I’d also argue for a need to define one’s deep-down ethics to avoid running after convenience, money, extrinsic pleasure and bright shiny objects.

Life is messy. I'd also argue for a need to define one's deep-down ethics to avoid running after convenience, money, extrinsic pleasure and bright shiny objects. #lifeismessy Click To Tweet

Merry messy Christmas, and a happy new year! See you on the other side!

P.S. Today, the day of publication is actually Mbappé’s 25th birthday! Bon anniversaire Kylian!! 🥳

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