Messi Doesn’t Need A World Cup
Many football fans’ dream of seeing one of the greatest footballers of all time lift the coveted FIFA World Cup trophy is over, for now at least, following Argentina’s round of 16 loss to a youthful but formidable France team. Sure, it might’ve been a pipe dream considering the state of the current Argentina national team but nobody completely wrote them off because of one man, Lionel Messi. Although winning the tournament would’ve topped off what has been a sensational career, he does not need to win the World Cup to be considered as one of best ever, if not the best ever.
The FC Barcelona forward is my favourite player of all time. I grew up watching the likes of Ronaldo Nazario, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho, and not once did I imagine a player would make me feel more joy than they did. Messi’s pace, power and dribbling ability obviously stood out in his earlier years, but even more remarkable was his humility, a trait that, in my opinion, makes a great player greater. And these features of his game have remained for the best part of 13 years, since his senior debut for the Blaugrana in 2005.
What makes him more incredible is that football today is played under a microscope. You know everything about your opponent. Coaches have access to highly developed analysis in the form of videos and statistics, yet Messi, who stands in at just 1.7 metres tall, still does as he pleases. No amount of preparation aids teams in stopping the Argentine. He is simply too good and has proven this time and time again on the world’s biggest stages. You will not tie him down, and even if you do, he will still score. The same goes for Cristiano Ronaldo, who he is always compared to, but I prefer a team player. I prefer wizardry over brute strength. I prefer to not know how the magician performs his tricks. Every single time Messi plays, I’m in the front row (of my lounge) and my eyes are glued.
Throughout the course of his career, Messi has been likened to the legendary Diego Maradona. He is small like his predecessor, yet his impact is enormous. He is left-footed like his predecessor and can dribble like him too. Messi, however, has not won the World Cup. And after Argentina crashed out in the round of 16 to Didier Deschamps’ France side, these comparisons have been brought up again. People seem to think Maradona won the 1986 World Cup on his own, but following the Albiceleste’s telling 3-0 loss to Croatia in their second Group D match, Maradona himself said: “When I played and had a bad game, Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga showed up and had my back. Messi has no one. It’s all on his own.” Even the greats need help.
While we’re at it, let’s also dispel the myth that Messi doesn’t perform whenever he pulls on his country’s shirt. The 31-year-old has hit the back of the net 65 times for Argentina, making him their all-time record scorer, while he has assisted a further 45 strikes. Overall, he has contributed to 110 goals in 126 matches for his national team. He also dragged Argentina to three major finals – the 2014 World Cup final, and the Copa America finals in 2015 and in 2016. At the 2014 World Cup, Messi was Argentina’s standout player, while he contributed to nine goals in five matches at the 2016 Copa.
Unfortunately, Messi was unable to win any of those trophies with his national side, but to say he’s been poor for them is ludicrous. Six out of Argentina’s seven victories in their World Cup qualifying campaign came with their captain on the field, picking up 19 points in 10 matches, while without him they embarrassingly collected just seven points in eight games. Sure, he’s probably never been as explosive for his country as he has been for Barca, but it is quite clear that Argentina are a better side with Messi on the pitch.
At club level, as we all know, Messi has won everything. He’s scored in UEFA Champions League finals, he’s buried Real Madrid on countless occasions and nobody in the history of LaLiga has scored or assisted more goals than he has. Not only is he a machine in terms of finding the back of the net, but he also has numbers that would put any playmaker to shame. The Argentine has set up 284 goals in his club and international career combined. Ronaldinho assisted 172 goals in his career. Zidane assisted just 117 goals in his. Those are two of the world’s best attackers and creative midfielders to have ever played the game, but this is Messi.
While many believe only the World Cup trophy would cement the 31-year-old’s spot on football’s Mount Rushmore, I’m here to remind you that his place was established years ago. I’ll never forget when Pep Guardiola was asked in a press conference if he thought Messi was the best player in history. I won’t forget this because Messi was just 22 years old at the time. He is football’s William Shakespeare. He is a god among mere mortals.