As a Barcelona supporter, it was great to see Lionel Messi put a hat trick on Atletico Madrid in the 1st leg of their Round of 16 Copa Del Rey tie at the Vicente Calderon.

It was a performance that the Spanish & Catalan media were gushing over especially since it was against a Champions League side and neither Eto’o or Henry played. While Messi was great, it is premature to crown him as the next great player.

Right now, Messi is Barca’s 4th or 5th most valuable player behind Puyol, Xavi, Eto’o and Iniesta which is more a tribute to Barcelona’s system of player development and acqusition than Messi’s talent. His success at Barca is no doubt a product of his talent and the supreme talents of his teammates.

Certainly his team is good but Messi has his moments like the hat trick vs. Real Madrid in 2007 and the Maradona-like Golazo of the Decade against Getafe in the 1st leg of the 2007 Copa Del Rey semifinal.

How about the most recent performance versus Los Colchoneros in which he got that hat trick. It was skillful finishing on Messi’s part but 2 of his goals were more a function of excellent vision & passing by his teammates, Dani Alves & Andres Iniesta. As for the penalty he did what he was supposed to do.

For Los Albicelestes, his senior side performances are still erratic as evidenced by Argentina’s struggles in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying where La Pulga is not in the Top 10 in goal scoring not to mention his disappearance in the Copa America final vs. Brazil. On the positive end, Messi set up the gold medal winning goal for Argentina against Nigeria in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

He is certainly not to blame for Argentina’s problems in qualifying but the truly great ones can raise teams above the drama.

Diego A. Maradona has already named Messi as his “successor” which hopefully means Lionel will follow Maradona’s positive on the pitch exploits and not the negative off the pitch ones.

The big question is can he carry a team for an extended period of time & be the face of a team, that has yet to be seen. That ability to carry a team is what separates Maradona from Messi, great from excellent. Diego carried Napoli & Argentina to trophies while Messi has been a contributor to trophies. There is a big difference.

Obviously at 21, He still has a lot to learn so let’s not crown him with greatness yet. For Argentina & Barcelona fans, the hope is that Messi doesn’t believe all the hype and his head doesn’t swell. If his head does get too big the crown of greatness will not fit and then his vast potential will be wasted.