By Lily Bolash
Events that can unify an entire nation are few and far between. More often than not, such moments are laced with tragedy. But the only tears shed on the streets of Argentina following its World Cup victory on December 18, 2022 were those of unabridged joy. The result of the tense final match has put a temporary graft on Argentine morale. Yet after the confetti falls, how promising are the country’s prospects beyond football?
Lucky number three
The 2022 World Cup squad brought home Argentina’s third trophy from the world-renowned FIFA tournament. Each time, their victories have come embroiled with controversy. In 1978, Argentina hosted and won the tournament under the shadow of a military coup that had occurred just two years prior. In 1986, Argentinian star Diego Maradona scored a highly disputed goal that allowed the country to advance into the semifinals, and eventually secure victory in the final. This goal – known as the “Hand of God” – was scored in a ‘knock-out’ match against England, a matchup that was politically tense given the recent occurrence of the Falklands War.
Finally, in 2022, the World Cup tournament itself was shrouded in controversy due to the host country, Qatar. The Middle Eastern nation – the first to ever host a World Cup – was accused of foul play when bidding for the host role, mistreatment of labourers building the stadiums, and human rights violations due to its stance against LGBTQ+ individuals. This overarching climate, coupled with questionable behaviour by Argentinian players during certain matches and celebrations, has once again clouded the nation’s trophy with an air of misgiving.
Man of the moment
Any of these concerns, however, are easily forgotten in the name of Lionel Messi, captain of the Argentine squad and one of the greatest footballers of all time. At age 35, the Qatar World Cup was widely anticipated as Messi’s last chance at the trophy, a key piece of hardware which had been missing from his enormous collection. His name and number were adorned by supporters around the world: those from Argentina itself, countries who didn’t qualify, and countries who dropped out as the tournament progressed.
While the entire Argentinian team boasts impressive talent, it was indisputably Messi’s leadership, skill, and pursuit of legacy that unified the squad and led them to their historic victory.
Crisis off the pitch
Players like Messi are just one example of the wealth of human capital in Argentina. However, it has too often gone underexploited – as observed by the former president of the Central Bank of Argentina Mario Blejer, talented Argentinians tend to emigrate to countries where their efforts are appreciated in the market and protected by consistent government policy. This is one of many factors contributing to the desolate state of the Argentine economy. In November 2022, the national annual inflation rate was reported at a staggering 92.4%. In comparison, Great Britain – which is suffering a cost of living crisis – reported the same figure at a mere 14.8% in October 2022. Additionally, the national interest rate of Argentina is a staggering 75%. In the United States, the same figure is just 4.4%.
These statistics indicate bleak economic prospects for Argentina. The national star, Messi, has an estimated net worth of £519 million; while most Argentinians have shared in his victory, they do not share in his prosperity. Fluctuating government policies and over-intervention in the economy have stalled growth for years. Argentinians may eat, breathe, and sleep football, but no amount of trophies can keep their businesses open, children fed, and economy running.
A future after football
The post-victory celebrations halted everyday life in Argentina. Millions of fans flooded the streets in their iconic blue-and-white striped jerseys boasting the ‘AFA’ patch. Viral internet videos showed both birds-eye and up-close views of the sheer numbers that turned out to celebrate the nation’s success. It was a necessary morale boost for the country, which has been riddled by political turmoil as well as economic failure. Some hope that the World Cup win will boost tourism, thereby creating jobs and raising its global profile. It is even predicted that Argentina could experience a tangible, 0.25% boost in the upcoming two economic quarters.
However, it is unclear whether the impacts of the World Cup will be enough to calm the Argentinian economy and steer it to success. In fact, the statistics clearly suggest otherwise. Radical political change – not another successful round of penalty kicks – is what has the power to right the economy’s course. There is every cause to celebrate the national accomplishment that is a World Cup win; there is every likelihood that newfound unity may come as a result. Nevertheless, the future of Argentina is no longer in the hands of its footballers, but the citizens who support them. The next fiscal year will be their tournament of a lifetime.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and may not reflect the opinions of The St Andrews Economist.
Image source obtained from Washington Post via Getty Images