Lionel Messi's Reputation Does Not Rest on Argentina's 2014 World Cup Outcome

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Lionel Messi's Reputation Does Not Rest on Argentina's 2014 World Cup Outcome
Andre Penner/Associated Press
Can Lionel Messi lead Argentina to World Cup glory this summer?

As much as fans like to debate and alter the notion of "legacy," the reality is that Lionel Messi's place in the annals of world football is already set.

La Pulga is on pace to shatter every scoring record in Barcelona's storied history and has maintained his status as one of the two best players of the world for years now.

However, Messi's European performances have far outstripped his showings on the international stageparticularly at the World Cup. He has scored just once in two appearances in the tournament and was shut out despite much fanfare in South Africa:

Messi himself seemed to acknowledge the pressure, which has compounded this year following a down La Liga campaignat least by his lofty standardsthat saw Barca finish second to Atletico Madrid

According to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN FC), an eager Messi has vowed to turn on the switch:

"I have arrived with the national team and I am flipping the switch. Many times it was the opposite, I would go to Barcelona and play well, this time we hope the reverse is true," he told reporters at Ezeiza airport. "When I get together on the pitch with my friends (on the national team) it is going to be a different story."

Argentina's vaunted midfield lineup has matured since 2010, and Messi's supporting cast will resemble the star-studded lineup he enjoys at Camp Nou.

When fans see Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, it's not difficult to envision Messi breaking down defenses with the same prodding style as he utilizes in front of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.

Despite poor World Cup performances, Messi has been able to thrive in the Seleccion's uptempo, counter-based attack.

After scoring 10 goals in the qualifying rounds, Messi told BBC Football Focus in February that he believes the Argentinians are primed for a deep run in the first South American World Cup since 1978.

"I think this World Cup arrives at a good time for Argentina. We have grown as a team on and off the pitch," he said.

However, regardless of how the Argentinians fare in the tournament, Messi's sterling reputation should remain intact.

Fans will surely pounce if the four-time Ballon d'Or winner flounders on the world stage, but as Agence France-Presse (h/t The National) relays, even Diego Maradona does not believe Messi requires a World Cup to cement his legacy:

Messi doesn’t need to win a World Cup to be the best footballer in the world,” Maradona claimed in a recent interview with Argentine newspaper La Nacion.

“To win a World Cup would be amazing for Argentina, for the fans and for Leo. But a World Cup more or less will not take away any of the merit of what he has done to get to where he is.”

The pressure on Argentina only figures to grow considering their draw. Facing a trio of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, Argentina should cruise through to the round of 16, likely with nine points in hand.

In determining their World Cup prospects, Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero summed up the situation best when speaking with the Times of India (h/t FC Barcelona FI):

Messi provides any club he plays for with a realistic shot at victory, but Argentina are not necessarily overwhelming favorites after the group stage.

If La Albiceleste fall short again, Messi may receive a considerable amount of blame.

Ultimately, though, whatever happens on the international stage should not follow him back to Spain, where he is undoubtedly a generational superstar.

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