Messi needs World Cup win to enter pantheon

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    The news last week was met with hardly a flicker of surprise in the football world: Lionel Messi was handed his third Ballon d’Or trophy in a row, crowned as the best footballer on the planet.

    It came as no shock to anyone who has witnessed the short Argentine on a football field. Darting between defenders, bambazooling goalkeepers, dribbling at a blistering pace with the ball seemingly glued to his feet and scoring goals at a phenomenal rate.

    As the undoubted star of the all-conquering Barcelona side, one of the greatest teams in world football history according to many, Messi is in a class of his own.

    In his short but prolific career, the little Argentine has acquired a decent medal count and a number of amazing records: youngest player to score a league goal in Spain, back in 2004-2005; La Liga titles in 2005 and 2006, then three in row from 2009-2011; Champions League trophys in 2006, 2009 and 2011; the top scorer in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship; the youngest ever to play for Argentina in a FIFA World Cup and a gold medal winner at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

    A fantastic goal scorer, but also an accumaltor of a lot of assists and a playmaker.

    And all this, and a lot more, by the age of just 24. It’s scary. If Messi retired tomorrow he would regarded among the greatest ever to lace on a boot.

    Considering he should have a good 10 years left in his career, what he might achieve in the next decade is mind-blowing.

    After the Ballon d’Or presentation in Zurich, the plaudits came thick and fast for Lionel.

    Messi’s club coach, who on the same night won the best coach in the world award, Pep Guardiola, said: “Is Messi at the same level as Pele, Cruyff, Maradona? He’s up there with them, now it will depend on him if he stays there.”

    Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United icon who is regarded as one of the best coaches of all time, said: “Is Messi the best player in history? Can’t compare generations. Pele, Maradona, Cruyff… have all been great. Messi is one of them.”

    Only 24, but already viewed by many as one of the greatest ever in the history of the beautiful game. Messi may only be 24, but he’s been displaying his brilliance with the round ball for nearly 20 years.

    Comparing players from eras is notoriously difficult, but the question remains: Just how good is Messi? Is he up there with Edson Arantes do Nascimento and Diego Armando Maradona, or is he better?

    Personally, I believe without success in the Copa America and the World Cup, Messi can’t be regarded as greater than Pele and Maradona.

    Pele’s three World Cups and Maradona’s one, in 1986 when he carried Argentina all the way, put them above the truckload of club honours and other accalades that Messi has achieved.

    But the beautiful thing is that Messi still has time. He reached the final of the Copa America in 2007, and Argentina were unlucky to go out to Germany in the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup.

    The 2011 Copa America and 2010 World Cups weren’t as successful for Leo, but he has several more to look forward to. His best years may be ahead of him.

    And with the immense talent within the Argentine ranks, there’s no question that Messi will have a very good chance for glory in the coming years. Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018, perhaps even Qatar in 2022 although its a long shot, are within his grasp.

    Finding the right players to compliment him, and having a system that suits him, will be the key for Messi to thrive in a World Cup or Copa America. Securing a coach that can get the most of a tremendously talented but notoriously under-achieving Argentina squad is essential.

    Ultimate success on the international stage is the only thing eluding Lionel Andrés Messi. It is the only black mark on a truly glittering career. But it’s only half-time on Leo’s journey and he still has time to reach that goal.

    Brave people would bet against him reaching it. It might not be too long that we regale our children with tales of the kid from Rosario, the son of a steel worker, who was the greatest footballer who ever lived.

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    The Crowd Says (13)

    • January 20th 2012 @ 8:27am
      James said | January 20th 2012 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      he docent need a world cup. The champions league is full of better players than on almost any national team. Look at the year pele was injured, Brazil still won the world cup, and with messi on that team they surly would have. Argentina would not have won the last world cup if pele was on it even in his prime. Same as maradona, his argentina wasn’t exactly full of stars, but he didn’t “carry” the team.

      • January 21st 2012 @ 4:36am
        mico said | January 21st 2012 @ 4:36am | ! Report

        Welll said! Couldn’t agree more. The game is way more competitive now and Messi has made it look easy. People will make up reasons to make Messi less. He plays in the best team history has seen and he outshines everyone even then. Pele needs to stop talking by now

    • January 20th 2012 @ 8:34am
      Mals said | January 20th 2012 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      Great footballer! The best? Too early to say.

      I hope he doesn’t play his club football in the La Liga his whole career, it would be nice to see his talents put on display in another European league or 2.

    • January 20th 2012 @ 9:31am
      Ricardo said | January 20th 2012 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      I think it is wrong to think that Messi will not be the best just because he does not win a world cup. Generations are different and if you look at things like records athletes are constantly evolving so it makes sense. Why pass judgement on the greatness of a players on the basis of a tournament that only lasts 6,7,8 games and only come every 4 yrs with a team that he never plays with. Dosent make sense. It’s stupid. The world cup is just a party for the world that’s it. If you win the world cup it’s because your team is good not only you. Maradona won that world cup because his brilliance kicked in at the right time and moment with the right players and with a tired defense ( altitude). Not taking anything from Maradona but I think that to achieve a champions league is more prestigious than a world cup. Pele never won a European tittle think about that. Messi has done things that no other player has done that is why he is the best. People who really know about soccer know that the world cup is not the echelon of this sport.

      • January 20th 2012 @ 2:35pm
        dasilva said | January 20th 2012 @ 2:35pm | ! Report

        Pele never won the European cup however this was before globalisation.

        The brazillian league was probably the best league in the world at that time (the brazillian side that dominated the world cup in his era all played their domestic football in brazil) and he won the copa libertadoras and then the playoff with the European champions where Pele absolutely dominated Benfica the european best at the time.

        So he never won the european cup but he was the best player in the best league in the world and won the continental championship that was probably equivalent in strength to the european cup and defeated the european champions.

        He dominated both in club and country.

    • January 20th 2012 @ 10:40am
      Alan Nicolea said | January 20th 2012 @ 10:40am | ! Report

      He does need a World Cup in my opinion. This is a tournament that is just so darn hard to win and it takes something signficantly special to emerge victorious. Just look at the Netherlands – They have made three finals and have lost them all, and Spain only recently won their first ever World Cup in 2010. Messi can certainly win one. Many people seem to believe that he doesn’t perform for Argentina, but in fact, he is the one that looks most likely to do something for the Albicelestes. Coach Alejandro Sabella really needs to get his head out of the sand and pick a starting 11 that compliments Messi’s style. I would use a 3-5-2 formation because Argentina have some wonderful attacking players at their disposal but they also have some good defenders that Sabella fails to start in his matches. My line-up:

      Fernandez, Samuel, Zanetti (Or Garay)
      Di Maria, Banega, Mascherano, Lavezzi
      Aguero Higuain

    • January 20th 2012 @ 2:18pm
      Sergio said | January 20th 2012 @ 2:18pm | ! Report

      Great article. I don;t think he needs o win the World Cup, on the other hand, if he did, it will put the question of “best ever” to rest.

    • Roar Guru

      January 20th 2012 @ 2:19pm
      Matt Bungard said | January 20th 2012 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

      I really don’t think it matters. It’s always odd when people try to argue team achievements as a characteristic either for or against a certain player.

      Ronaldo will never win a World Cup with Portugal, Cruyff never won one with the Netherlands..this doesn’t change the fact that Cruyff is in the top five best footballers ever and Ronaldo is in the top two of his generation. (I’m aware Cruyff won the EURO and Ronaldo almost did as well)

      Roque Junior is not a better centre-half than John Terry just because he’s won a World Cup. Just like Maniche is not a better midfielder than Steven Gerrard just because the Portuguese won a Premiership with Chelsea.

      Messi will go down in history as maybe the best footballer ever…regardless of what he does in World Cups. He’s already won the Ballon D’Or three times and has torn Real Madrid to shreds dozens of times, not to mention his magical performances in the Champions League.

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