Skip to content

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.”

Latest Posts
  1. Philippe Coutinho open to an extension at Liverpool

    Sep 14, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT

    Liverpool v Borussia Dortmund - Pre Season friendly Getty Images

    Philippe Coutinho said that he would entertain an extension at Liverpool

  2. Jeremy Menez shines for AC Milan in riveting victory over Parma

    Sep 14, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT

    Jeremy+Menez+qojlhLjziL0m Getty Images

    Jeremy Menez tallied a brace and a spectacular goal as AC Milan edged Parma in a high-scoring affair.

  3. WATCH: FC Dallas striker Blas Perez nails very steep-angled goal

    Sep 14, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT

    blas_perez Getty Images

    A very tough goal scored by FC Dallas striker Blas Perez from an MLS match last night.

  4. President Obama follows through on World Cup beer bet

    Sep 14, 2014, 5:34 PM EDT

    Barack Obama AP

    President Obama sent the Belgian embassy a pack of beer after he lost a World Cup bet on Twitter.

  5. Cristiano Ronaldo could demand $813,225-per-week to make La Liga exit

    Sep 14, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT

    Cristiano Ronaldo AP

    Ronaldo may eye a even bigger contract at the end of this season, but not at Real Madrid.

  6. WATCH: New stars show up for Man United in first test

    Sep 14, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Manchester United Angel Di Maria AP

    NBC’s Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino discuss the performances of Manchester United’s new players in a 4-0 drubbing of QPR.

  7. Casillas: Real Madrid fans ‘entitled to complain’ after Atletico loss

    Sep 14, 2014, 3:29 PM EDT

    Spain v Netherlands: Group B - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Goalkeeper Iker Casillas wasn’t opposed to fans whistling at him during Real Madrid’s match vs. Atletico Madrid.

  8. WATCH: Louis van Gaal urges Manchester United to “make a new start” after QPR win

    Sep 14, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT

    VanGaal Getty Images

    After a comprehensive 90 minutes for their first win of the year, van Gaal is bullish on the Red Devils’ chances going forward.

  9. Report: Alan Pardew has one game to save his job

    Sep 14, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

    Pardew Getty Images

    With Newcastle’s managerial situation deteriorating rapidly, there is one week to turn things around.

  10. WATCH: Manchester United honor 12-year Old Trafford vet Rio Ferdinand before QPR match

    Sep 14, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT

    Ferdinand Getty Images

    After 450 matches for Manchester United, Rio Ferdinand returned to Old Trafford on the opposing end for the first time.

  11. Julian Green starts for Hamburg in first Bundesliga appearance

    Sep 14, 2014, 12:12 PM EDT

    Green AP

    The Bayern Munich loanee makes his professional league debut.

  12. WATCH: Angel Di Maria opens his Manchester United scoring account for 1-0 lead over QPR

    Sep 14, 2014, 11:38 AM EDT

    DiMaria Getty Images

    It’s the first goal of his Premier League career for the $99 million man.

  13. Watch Live: Manchester United vs QPR (Lineups)

    Sep 14, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT

    Falcao AP

    Falcao is not in the starting lineup in his first Manchester United game available for selection.

  14. French report says Mathieu Debuchy out for two months

    Sep 14, 2014, 9:51 AM EDT

    Debuchy Getty Images

    Early estimates have Debuchy missing crucial Premier League matches against Chelsea as well as the North London derby.

  15. Reports say Alan Pardew on thin ice as Newcastle front office eyes Hull’s Steve Bruce

    Sep 14, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT

    PardewOut Getty Images

    Time could be up on Alan Pardew’s up and down tenure at Newcastle United.

  16. Injury plagued Holger Badstuber needs surgery again

    Sep 14, 2014, 8:34 AM EDT

    Badstuber

    A thigh tear will mean the man who missed two years with an ACL tear will yet again see the sidelines for an extended period of time.

  17. Paul Pogba tells French media he’s close to a Juventus extension

    Sep 14, 2014, 7:46 AM EDT

    Pogba

    Currently earning around just $2 million a year, it appears Paul Pogba will earn himself a stay at Juventus Stadium, and likely a raise as well.

  18. U.S. routs Mexico on record-breaking night for Hope Solo

    Sep 14, 2014, 12:56 AM EDT

    hope_solo Getty Images

    Two goals each for Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and a shutouts record for Hope Solo highlighted a lopsided night for the U.S. in Utah.

  19. Late night sprint: Columbus comes back in Houston; Colorado, Toronto snap losing streaks

    Sep 14, 2014, 12:08 AM EDT

    Portland Timbers against the Seattle Sounders AP

    A busy schedule in Major League Soccer leaves us playing catch-up on the day’s late games.

Featured video

Week 4: Saturday recap