Jul 13, 2014, 8:47 PM EST
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.”
Jan 25, 2015, 6:30 PM EST
There’s a new top-four team in Spain, while little has changed in Italy, both for good and bad.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:28 PM EST
Two of eight quarterfinals places were clinched on Sunday as the late drama continues at AFCON 2015.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:59 PM EST
A work permit still must be obtained, but Arsenal is on the cusp of securing some defensive depth.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:07 PM EST
With 10 goals in his last six games, all of that is coming to a screeching halt.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:54 PM EST
After yesterday’s FA Cup craziness, things were restored to normal today as all three Premier League sides went through, despite some nervy moments.
Jan 25, 2015, 11:43 AM EST
Anderlecht fans responded to their former player – now with their arch rivals – in a very mean way. Defour reacted accordingly.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:46 AM EST
Four goals in his last four games has Paul Pogba on top of the world.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:16 AM EST
Aston Villa secured the services of midfielder Fabian Delph, and while that should have been an exciting announcement, the club blew it up a little too much and it fell flat on its face.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:23 AM EST
Mohamed Salah just needed signatures to make him a Roma player, but now the Italian club could be headed in a different direction.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:52 AM EST
Which is Balotelli and which is the practice dummy? It sounds like it’s harder for Brendan Rodgers to tell every day.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EST
The bitterness is flowing freely from Falcao’s agent as he plots the Colombian striker’s next move to a “world’s best-seven team.”
Jan 24, 2015, 8:45 PM EST
If MLS is good enough for Italian national teamers, why isn’t it good enough for U.S. national teamers?
Jan 24, 2015, 7:45 PM EST
Barcelona were stunning as they put a half-dozen past Elche, while Real stumbled to victory. Elsewhere, AC Milan are very bad.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EST
The Baby Yanks are headed back to the Big Dance this summer.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
A number of PL giants fell on Saturday, leaving Arsenal, West Ham and Aston Villa shaking in their boots.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:54 PM EST
The squad is set for the first games of 2015, following a late addition and a number of cuts.
Jan 24, 2015, 4:20 PM EST
After four games played, absolutely nothing separates any of the four teams in Group D. Nothing.
Jan 24, 2015, 3:23 PM EST
“Frustration is not the right word, embarrassed would be more appropriate.”
Jan 24, 2015, 2:51 PM EST
Catch up on all the latest rumors and gossip, right here.
Jan 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EST
Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off for Real Madrid, but Gareth Bale saved three points with a late-game penalty.
- Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Congo, Equatorial Guinea victorious in group finales, advance 0
- FA Cup Roundup: Upsets halted with West Ham, Villa, Arsenal wins 1
- Rodgers says Balotelli needs to vastly improve before playing for Liverpool 1
- Italy head coach Antonio Conte supports Sebastian Giovinco’s move to MLS 9
- USMNT U-20s defeat El Salvador, 2-0, qualify for 2015 U-20 World Cup 2
- Jurgen Klinsmann names 23-man roster for USMNT friendlies vs. Chile, Panama 0