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Lionel Messi’s legacy is still bright, but not brilliant after World Cup shortfall

Jul 13, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT

Messi AP

LeBron James, fair or not, will always be compared to Michael Jordan, and the first point of comparison is championships.

Lionel Messi, fair or not, will always be compared to fellow Argentinian Diego Maradona, and the first point of comparison is World Cup titles.

Maradona has one, and Messi has none.

At age 27, having helped his team to the World Cup final, Messi was powerless to prevent Germany from snatching the victory in extra time, while Argentina had nothing in front of goal.

But the biggest difference isn’t necessarily the win or loss of the trophy, but the performances involved. The “Cosmic Kite” won the World Cup in what seemed like a one-man show. “La Pluga” couldn’t.

And that’s the difference.

There’s no doubting Messi is one of the greatest players to have graced this beautiful game.  He has 243 goals in 277 La Liga matches. He has 43 international goals. He has untold amounts of trophies for both individual and team performances, including an unprecedented four Ballon d’Or awards.

source: AP

Wrong trophy: Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball, but clearly wishes he could trade the individual award for a World Cup title.

His national team manager Alejandro Sabella acknowledged that Messi had already secured himself into the category of greats before this team had started, which is entirely true.

“I believe he is already in the pantheon of greats,” Sabella told reporters after the match. “He was there before the tournament and he’s been there for a while.”

Messi’s electricity and dribbling beauty is once-in-a-generation type stuff, and that is not debatable.

But with a gaping hole on his resume, it’s hard to establish Messi as among the best ever, even in his own country.

In this day of communication, technology, and social media, club performances in individual countries mean much more than they used to, but World Cups still define players and careers.

Look at Pele.  He played his entire career in the Brazilian league, which doesn’t have the exposure as some of the larger European leagues (although it had much more pedigree at that time).  But with three World Cup victories, he is unmatched in that category and is indisputably known as the best soccer player who ever lived.

For Messi to stake a claim for the “best ever” designation – or even come close – he needed a World Cup, and it eluded him.

There’s still time for the moment. If he can keep up this level of play another four years, there’s no telling what can happen given another tournament. But he’ll be 31 at that time, and there was no better chance than while in the prime of his career.

Argentina was a good team, but with few individual stars and a couple of key injuries, there’s no question he has a better team at the club level.  It’s difficult – nearly impossible, in fact – for a player to win a World Cup mostly on his own, and that should never be expected of someone.

But Maradona did it, and therein lies the problem.

No credit should be taken away from Messi this tournament, legacy wise.  The world already knows what he’s capable of. He’s still, as Sabella said, in the “pantheon of greats.”

But he did nothing to further his legacy this past month either, and without improvement, he still remains just “one of the greats.” Just ask Johan Cruyff.

And that likely doesn’t sit well with the “Little Flea.”

  1. godsholytrousers - Jul 13, 2014 at 9:11 PM

    Over and over Messi fails to bring home the big prize for his national team. Messi wasn’t the best player on his team this tournament (Di Maria or Mascherano were both better). You can rate him where you like, but he will never be in my top twenty until he can produce for Club and Country. Argentina are very good, it is not as if he doesn’t have a platform to display his greatness. He just hasn’t been that great for Country. I think he is the Michel Platini of his generation.

  2. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Jul 13, 2014 at 9:33 PM

    These arguments of best player ever are pointless. Sorry but Pele is not even indisputable. I think comparisons with Cruyff are the most apt due to lacking in World Cup results. But frankly just marvel at his talent, skill, and in Messi’s case a refreshing calm and humility.

  3. christophershearin - Jul 13, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Had Messi scored on that freekick in extra time, he would have vaulted himself into legend status. But alas, he is human after all. Great game

  4. dkalev - Jul 13, 2014 at 11:27 PM

    How did he even win the golden ball?

    • braxtonrob - Jul 14, 2014 at 2:18 AM

      @dkalev, Speed, unselfishness, goals, assists, but mostly … because he’s a ‘magician’ on the ball -there is no other player like him, and I pity all those here (that apparently didn’t play at a high level) because watching him is an absolute delight.

      (His free kicks obviously need work, but we can’t all be Beckham.)

      • thefutureofoil - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:32 PM

        Apparently he left his magicians wand at home against Germany. Even he was embarrassed to get the award.

  5. simonkulberg - Jul 14, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    Cruyff was good at the 1974 WC at least, even though he didn`t win. Messi was invisible for most of this WC, and totally invisible after the group stage.

    • tarotsujimoto74 - Jul 14, 2014 at 9:36 AM

      I don’t understand this sort of comment. He was the reason his team won their first four games.

  6. kountryking - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    “Pulga” not “Pluga”!

  7. travishenryskid - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    Best player l’ve ever seen. That’s all I care about.

  8. bayoor75 - Jul 14, 2014 at 9:02 PM

    Instead of flogging this dead debate, talk about 2 clear cut chances Higuain missed (in one, he only had the keeper to beat). Talk about 2 clear chances Aguero fluffed. Talk about the clear chance Palacio wasted. At some point, other players have to contribute. If any of those guys had scored, Argentina would have won. What is more amazing about Argentina’s run is that they did it with only 8 players (7 outfield and 1 keeper). Higuain, Aguero and Palacio were ineffective throughout the tournament (yes, Higuain scored against Belgium). Argentina did not win the world cup because of the head strong Sabella. He knew that Aguero has struggled all year with his injury and Higuain also had a knock coming in but he refused to call up Tevez. That’s why the vaunted attack line lacked bite throughout the tournament. With Tevez, Argentina would have been a different side altogether and probably would have won.

    Messi is one of the greatest to ever play the game. Where he ranks, is up to individual preference. IMO, he is the best ever – only 4 time Ballon d’Or, most goals in a season, most goals in a calendar year, world cup MVP and a host of club titles…and this is at just 27 years old!

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