Jul 13, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
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.
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.”
Sep 14, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT
Philippe Coutinho said that he would entertain an extension at Liverpool
Sep 14, 2014, 7:28 PM EDT
Jeremy Menez tallied a brace and a spectacular goal as AC Milan edged Parma in a high-scoring affair.
Sep 14, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
A very tough goal scored by FC Dallas striker Blas Perez from an MLS match last night.
Sep 14, 2014, 5:34 PM EDT
President Obama sent the Belgian embassy a pack of beer after he lost a World Cup bet on Twitter.
Sep 14, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
Ronaldo may eye a even bigger contract at the end of this season, but not at Real Madrid.
Sep 14, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
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.
Sep 14, 2014, 3:29 PM EDT
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas wasn’t opposed to fans whistling at him during Real Madrid’s match vs. Atletico Madrid.
Sep 14, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
After a comprehensive 90 minutes for their first win of the year, van Gaal is bullish on the Red Devils’ chances going forward.
Sep 14, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
With Newcastle’s managerial situation deteriorating rapidly, there is one week to turn things around.
Sep 14, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT
After 450 matches for Manchester United, Rio Ferdinand returned to Old Trafford on the opposing end for the first time.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT
Angel Di Maria is good. Really, really good.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:12 PM EDT
The Bayern Munich loanee makes his professional league debut.
Sep 14, 2014, 11:38 AM EDT
It’s the first goal of his Premier League career for the $99 million man.
Sep 14, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT
Falcao is not in the starting lineup in his first Manchester United game available for selection.
Sep 14, 2014, 9:51 AM EDT
Early estimates have Debuchy missing crucial Premier League matches against Chelsea as well as the North London derby.
Sep 14, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
Time could be up on Alan Pardew’s up and down tenure at Newcastle United.
Sep 14, 2014, 8:34 AM EDT
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.
Sep 14, 2014, 7:46 AM EDT
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.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:56 AM EDT
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.
Sep 14, 2014, 12:08 AM EDT
A busy schedule in Major League Soccer leaves us playing catch-up on the day’s late games.
- Manchester United 4-0 QPR: Roaring first half signals intentions of new-look United 1
- Reports say Alan Pardew on thin ice as Newcastle front office eyes Hull’s Steve Bruce 0
- MLS Snapshot: Philadelphia Union 2-2 New York Red Bulls 0
- Late Turan goal gives Atletico 2-1 win at Real Madrid 0
- Saturday Premier League roundup: Chelsea win, Arsenal-Man City draw, Liverpool lose (video) 0
- Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa: Agbonlahor’s early score leads Villa past listless Liverpool (video) 2