World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi and Stars That Won't Receive Career-Defining Moment

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World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi and Stars That Won't Receive Career-Defining Moment
Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press
Lionel Messi's career will not be defined by a World Cup success in Brazil.

Much has been made of the 2014 World Cup being Lionel Messi's "career-defining moment."

For many, it seems that the young Argentine captain can only truly be considered the best to have ever played the game if he leads his country to victory in neighbouring Brazil.

Such critique is a little wide of the mark when you consider the difference Messi has made to his Barcelona side over the past few years.

Total Barca notes he is just four goals shy of Paulinho Alcantara's all-time goals record (inc. friendlies) for the Blaugrana:

If such form is an indicator of what's to come after the tournament when Messi will arguably be approaching his peak as a footballer, then it really is folly to suggest that the World Cup is the be-all and end-all for the player.

The comparisons with Diego Maradona's successful 1986 campaign are obvious, but unfortunate.

Messi has already surpassed anything Argentina's other favourite son achieved throughout his career and Maradona himself is the first to acknowledge it, per Sport (h/t ESPNSoccernet):

Messi is better than me at World Cup '86.

He's the best player in the world and better by far compared to others.

Messi is well aware that colleagues expect him to be the icing on the cake. He has to be the leader with the ball.

Whilst it's fairly obvious that any footballer would wish to add a medal from FIFA's premier tournament to their collection, given what Messi has achieved in the game already, it's hard to argue that his career hasn't already been defined.

 

Neymar

Themba Hadebe/Associated Press
Brazil will expect great things from Neymar at the World Cup.

Neymar is another superstar that all eyes will be on throughout the tournament, and perhaps the youngster will feel the pressure more keenly than his Barca colleague.

He too carries the hopes of a nation, but Neymar has the added burden of this being a "home" tournament.

After his and the Selecao's stunning showing at last summer's Confederations Cup, Brazil has high expectations.

Let's assume, just for one moment, that the wunderkind is indeed instrumental in his country lifting the trophy in Rio.

His star will burn ever brighter, surely, but would it define him? No, of course not.

He was already a revelation in Brazilian club football with Santos and his legacy there will sit happily alongside the great Pele's—deservedly so.

At just 22 years of age, it would be fair to suggest that he has a good decade left of top-level club football.

As with Messi, there is much more to come, and it will be the entirety of his career that defines him, not a single tournament.

 

Mario Balotelli

Emilio Andreoli/Associated Press
Mario Balotelli's career has already been defined. By the media.

The moody Italian is never far from the news headlines, often for the wrong reasons.

However, to judge him for off-field misdemeanours would be wholly unfair. Here is a player, still just 23, who, with the right guidance, can be right up there as the one of the best players to have played the game.

Yes, he's a maverick. Yes, he courts controversy. But my word, what a player.

It's goals like this one against Bologna that continue to interest managers like Chelsea's Jose Mourinho, Balotelli's former mentor at Inter Milan:

Will Balotelli have his career-defining moment at the World Cup? No.

Why?

Because his career has already been defined. 

By the media who need a bad boy to sell newspapers or create stories.

 

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