What can the World Cup do for Leo Messi’s legacy in soccer? In a recent interview with The Sun newspaper, Messi’s Barcelona teammate Xavi gave his take on the subject.”Leo doesn’t need to win the World Cup to be considered the best player ever. I say that for those who demand he wins the World Cup to be considered the greatest ever in history. He’s decisive in every game he’s played in for six or seven years.”
While he may only be 26-years-old, Lionel Messi has been playing at an level unprecedented for the past seven years that it’s often discussed where he’s rated in history already. Some say that Messi is the greatest footballer of all time and others will respond with either Diego Maradona or Pele. The people who name the latter say Messi cannot be the best because he has not won a World Cup. People supporting Messi (including the FIFA World Cup odds at TopBet Sportsbook) will reply that the UEFA Champions League is a harder competition to win and has more talent involved than the World Cup. That is a different topic for another day but how much should a World Cup be a part of a player’s legacy?
Diego Maradona did not have the same club trophy collection as Pele and Messi because he never was on a squad that was dominant. The two-time South American Footballer of the Year scored 38 goals in 58 appearances for Barcelona and led them to a Copa del Ray in 1983 but he had many disputes with the directors and was transferred to Napoli in 1984. There he elevated his game and played brilliant football in 1986 to lead Argentina to a World Cup victory. Following the tournament, he was at the helm of the Partenopei’s double winning side as they won the Scudetto for the first time and also captured the Coppa Italia. He also was in charge of Napoli winning the UEFA Cup, now the UEFA Europa League, and Serie A again in 1990. The 1986 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winner had a unique quality making his teammates better and taking good teams up another level due to his skill set.
A feat that sets Pele apart from others is that he is the only man to win three World Cups. This statistic is misleading because in 1962 he got hurt against Czechoslovakia in the second match of the group stage and missed the rest of the tournament. Garrincha then became the focal point of a phenomenal Brazilian side and they ran through the competition to repeat as World Cup champions. Also, Pele played the prime of his career for Santos where he was surrounded by elite players such as Coutinho, Gilmar, Mauro, Mengalvio, Pepe, and Zito, who were all fellow Brazil internationals. They led Santos to their most successful period in club history by winning the first continental treble around the world, the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A five years in a row and repeating in 1962 and 1963 the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League, and the Intercontinental Cup, precursor to the FIFA Club World Cup. Officially, FIFA’s Ballon d’Or Prix d’Honneur scored 1,283 goals which will most likely never be equaled. As incredible as the 73-year-old was, he was always around world class players who made his job easier.
Messi enjoys the similar benefits of being surrounded by tremendous talent at the Blaugrana. So far he’s won two Copa del Rays, two FIFA Club World Cups, three Champions Leagues, and six La Liga titles. With Xavi and Andres Iniesta supplying him the ball, they also have been at the helm of Spain during their current dynasty; La Pulga continues to break countless goal scoring records. For Argentina, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner has not been consistent. The three-time Pichichi champion, given to whoever scores the most goals in La Liga, didn’t even score a goal in the 2010 World Cup. The three-time European Golden Shoe winner has checked off almost everything off his resume but his international career still leaves plenty to be desired.
Winning a World Cup will solidify Messi as the greatest footballer the beautiful game has ever witnessed. In terms of sheer quality, what he does on the pitch on a consistent basis has not been seen in the game’s history because of the competition he faces and the attention teams put on stopping him. Pele’s goal record is amazing but the majority was in Brazil and he did not face the competition Messi or Maradona did. Maradona’s presence on a side gave his teammates confidence that anything was possible but imagine how much better he could have been without his drug problems. Barring injury, Messi has the chance of playing in three more World Cups, including this year in Brazil. Until then, Maradona will remain the greatest ever if his compatriot cannot win the most prestigious trophy in all of soccer.