Football is personal. I have almost never watched a match as a neutral, declaring, to misquote Ravi Shastri as commentator, that football is the winner. To hell with that, I want my team to win, to humiliate the opponent. And if one of my favourite players is involved, even better.

Truth be told, I was desperately worried before the World Cup final between Argentina and France. As a true-blue Calcuttan who grew up in the 1970s, I considered the Brazilian striker Pelé the undisputed emperor of the kingdom of football. This automatically meant a fierce fealty to Brazil. Not even the advent of the mercurial Diego Maradona and the rise of Argentina could change this for me.

Then Lionel Andrés Messi burst into our TV screens. Happily, at about the same time as satellite television channels began to show European football live every weekend. And Messi’s incredible – no, insane – football converted me to becoming his emotional slave. So, for me – and probably for many others – the World Cup final was crucial not because of Argentina but because of Messi. He had to win the trophy before going into the sunset, and this was obviously his last chance. He had come very close to it in 2014, but German machine efficiency had put paid to those plans back then.

This time, I fretted about France, who had played mostly gorgeous football up until the final. And in the resurgent Mr Everywhere aka Antoine Griezman and Mr Outrun-Anyone-Score-From-Anywhere Kylian Mbappé, the defending champions would obviously be a hard obstacle to overcome for Messi.

The thing is, Messi and Argentina didn’t get this memo. And @leomessi inspired his team, with some magical support from Angel Di Maria (long a personal enemy of mine because he played for Real Madrid, the arch rivals of Messi’s Barcelona in Spain), to make Mbappé look like a tourist on a slow day in the West Asian desert for most of the regulation 90 minutes of the game.

Eventually, of course, class prevailed and Messi duly lifted the cup. My schadenfreude-soaked happy moments came before and during the presentation ceremony. After maintaining a gritty, aggressive posture throughout the tournament – laced with something close to despair after losing the opening group match to Saudi Arabia – Messi was smiling. He couldn’t stop. No wild jubilation, just a constant smile on his face.

And, in contrast, a dour refusal on Mbappé’s part to reveal a hint of his teeth, even while accepting and posing with the Golden Boot award, given to the highest scorer in the World Cup. I will not deny it. In my head, at least, Messi’s joy was all the brighter because of Mbappé’s insistence on being a sore loser.

No one said football is about kindness to the vanquished. Personally, I smiled a lot on the night of 18 December, 2022.