Lionel Messi is the biggest star in world soccer. His superlative displays in the Champions League have nosed him ahead of his La Liga rival Ronaldo in the race to be the world's greatest player. But is there still something missing in his career?
Messi has incredible stats (last season he scored a record 50 goals in La Liga and is Barca's record top scorer), and even though he's only 25, he already has a cabinet that is overflowing with trophies. To many younger soccer fans, Messi is already a soccer legend. But to us older fans, Messi will never be comparable to greats like Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane until he dominates on the international level. However, Johan Cruyff and Michel Platini are both considered legends even though neither of them won a World Cup title
Maybe this is old-school thinking because Pele, Maradona and Zidane all played in different eras, where the international game held more prestige. I remember back in the 1980s, when Brazil was going through its World Cup drought, players such as the mercurial winger Eder said he lived for the World Cup.
Nowadays the Champions League is the premiere tournament and Messi has already dominated in that competition. But in my opinion, if Messi is ever to be counted as a true great he still needs to get a World Cup title.
Messi's displays for the Argentine national team have been inconsistent. Sometimes he looks like a world beater, scoring wonder goals where he beats half the defense and hammers in a thunderbolt from 30 yards. But in major tournaments he has gone conspicuously missing.
It could be argued that Messi does not get the same level of support in the Argentine team as he gets at Barca. At Barca, Messi is the jewel in the crown, but for Argentina, he is the whole crown. I think Messi is also hampered by the merry go round of coaches with the Argentine national team.
Is Lionel Messi on par with Maradona?
Maradona was able to drag two fairly ordinary Argentine squads to two World Cup finals in 1986 and 1990. But unlike Messi, Maradona played for two squads managed by the same coach, Carlos Bilardo.
Messi does have age on his side. At 25, he is approaching his peak as a soccer player. We have to consider that Maradona didn't win a World Cup until he was around the same age. And here is a scary thought, with modern nutrition and training, it could be argued that players don't peak until 30, so Messi could become even better than he is now!
If Messi is a true world beater, he will be able to follow in the footsteps of his idol Maradona, and single handedly win a trophy by himself. Some may argue that that is harder nowadays, because the game is tougher than it was in Diego's days, but a true superstar can carry a tournament by himself. France has never come close to winning a trophy without the magical talents of Zidane.
So my challenge to Messi is win a world title and you will truly have taken Diego Maradona's crown. The world is waiting.