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regular-article-logo Friday, 21 June 2024

World Cup triumph seals it, means Messi is now the best

Argentina star deserves to be classed as the greatest male footballer of all time, not just for his trophies but for the way he plays the game

Deutsche Welle Published 19.12.22, 02:39 PM
Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi Deutsche Welle

He has done it. Finally. The last big honor to allude Lionel Messi is now his after Argentina lifted the World Cup having seemingly given the chance away. What's more, he can now legitimately claim to be the greatest men's footballer of all time.

Yes, Brazilian great Pele won three World Cups and remains the only man to do so. But football was very different in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Messi has played in a more cut-throat era, with lots more games and lots more pressure.

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He has shone throughout his career, inspiring Barcelona to four Champions Leagues and 10 Spanish titles, as well as leading Argentina to the Copa America last year. Individually, he has a record seven Ballons d'Or.

Pele played almost all his club career at Santos before a short stint at New York Cosmos. Messi has proven he can win away from his Barcelona comfort zone having helped win the French championship with Paris Saint-Germain last season.

Magic in his feet

But it is not just Messi's trophies; it is the way he plays the game that means he has to be seen as the very best now he is a World Cup winner.

Millions of children across the globe love football largely because of Messi. A small, shy man with magic in his feet. The kid from Rosario could be any one of his fans, just someone who lives and breathes football.

Many Argentina supporters here in Qatar were migrant workers from places such as India or Bangladesh. They all love Messi and Argentina's fan base was swelled like no other at this tournament.

In the final against France, he set the tone and tempo early on for a flying Argentina start, pinpoint passes and daring dribbles urging his side on. He kept his cool to slot away the early penalty and then was involved in Angel Di Maria's wonderful second goal, one of the best team goals in World Cup final history.

France, weakened by a virus in the camp, were nowhere and somehow levelled through Kylian Mbappe's quick double. But the Argentina hero rediscovered his groove in extra-time. It was one of the scruffiest goals of his career but he won't care.

He missed out on the World Cup Golden Boot because Mbappe scored his third to send the final to penalties, but again Messi won't care. He won an individual award in the form of Player of the Tournament, anyway.

But what matters more, after the pain of losing in extra-time to Germany in 2014, is that he is now a world champion - even after losing to Saudi Arabia in Argentina's opening game.

He had the guts in the shootout to go first and score, in contrast to Brazil's Neymar, who was due to go last and never got to take his spotkick as Croatia knocked out the Brazilians in the quarterfinals.

Messi is also a role model. He had problems with the Spanish tax authorities, but otherwise scandal is not a word you can associate with the 35-year-old. Compare him to Argentina's previous great Diego Maradona.

Humble and gracious

The late playmaker was arguably better at football than Messi, if that is even possible, but his drugs ban, "Hand of God" cheating and allegations of involvement with Italian criminal gangs means Maradona cannot be hailed as the greatest.

Sure, there is no way Argentina would have won the 1986 World Cup without him, but the same could be said for Messi in 2022 as his nation added a third crown.

South America has waited 20 years while Europe dominated. Messi helped stop France retaining their trophy.

There will be those who still think Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest. But a World Cup winners' medal is missing from his list of achievements. We must also contrast Messi's departure from Barcelona - tearful, humble, gracious - and Ronaldo's exits from Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus - entitled, arrogant, selfish.

The World Cup triumph, in his final World Cup game, puts Messi at the top of the football tree.

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