Lionel Messi's Legacy Is On The Line During 2014 World Cup

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2014

Argentina's Lionel Messi reacts after being fouled during an international friendly soccer match against Slovenia in La Plata, Argentina, Saturday, June 7, 2014. Argentina is leaving June 9 for Brazil to compete in the World Cup. (AP Photo/Eduardo Di Baia)
Eduardo Di Baia/Associated Press

Lionel Messi has nothing left to prove to anyone, but how he performs in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will ultimately determine how we remember his greatness.

The Argentine forward has given fans all over the globe everything, winning the Ballon d'Or four years in a row and a plethora of trophies with his club, Barcelona.

But as explained by Yahoo! Sports' Martin Rogers, the way the world views him and the way the people of Argentine do isn't the same thing:

Being the World Footballer of the Year four consecutive years and winning countless trophies for his club has made Argentina star Lionel Messi one of the most beloved players on the planet.

It's earned him endless adulation in Europe and a contract from FC Barcelona that's worth more than $20 million annually through 2018, according to Forbes.

In his homeland, however, Messi's popularity is not quite as all-encompassing as you might expect for a man many consider to be the best player in the world and named as such from 2009-2013.

Several of his peers and numerous soccer experts have pointed out that his legacy in these parts has been dented somewhat by the fact that he moved away from the country to join Barca in Spain at age 12, and has remained there ever since.

It's a curse Messi has had to carry ever since he first started to gain notoriety as a football player—the memory of Diego Maradona and Argentina's lack of World Cup glory in the past few decades.

Messi left Argentina when he was 12 years old to go and play in Spain, and most of his major successes have come at the club level. Because of this, some fans perceive Messi as "less Argentine" than some of his teammates who earned their stripes in the domestic league.

Despite this, he is almost revered by his teammates. Angel Di Maria couldn't hide his admiration when asked about his captain by AS (h/t to beIN Sports):

It was our choice who wears the captain's armband and we chose Messi.

Hopefully he has a great World Cup. He's a fantastic player, and as a person, a great friend and a very good team-mate. He's a great captain. We all want the team to go well. The group is very united and we worked hard to get here. We want to continue down this path.

I tell the same story [about meeting Messi for the first time]. When he went to the Olympics and I met him he was strong. Everyone was talking about Leo. He was already a dangerous player and I was next on the pitch. I like having him as a team-mate.

It's not just teammates, however. Rivals such as Thiago Silva have nothing but respect for the pint-sized forward, as he told ESPN FC:

The forward who takes away the dreams of everyone is Messi. I played against him three times when I was at Milan and once with PSG.

When play comes down one side of the pitch, he's out of this world. To stop Messi in a one-on-one, you can only do it with a rifle in your hand. Despite his recent injuries, he's a player who's going to give defenders a lot of work during the World Cup.

Messi has done it all. In fact, we're so used to seeing Messi win that we're surprised if he doesn't, as in 2014. Despite playing a fantastic season (how else would you describe 36 goals in La Liga and the Champions League, via, people called him out for his "poor form."

There's little doubt he's been the greatest player on the planet over the past five years, but one season with no silverware is enough to turn public opinion. It's an unfortunate side-effect of success, and on the eve of the 2014 World Cup, Messi knows this all too well.

Argentina haven't won a World Cup since 1986. It was the tournament that cemented Maradona's legacy and the last time the Argentines were at the top of the football world. The nation is desperate for another trophy, particularly on South American soil.

The Albiceleste are amongst the favourites, once again, but the team isn't as strong as people may suggest. A deadly attacking unit of Messi, Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero is supported by a solid midfield, but the defence has looked shaky against the likes  of Trinidad and Tobago and Slovenia.

The team looks good, but they're not complete. Not like rivals Brazil, defending champions Spain or European heavyweights Germany and France.

All eyes are on Messi to do what Maradona did 28 years ago. The comparison will never go away, no matter how hard the Barcelona forward tries to be his own man.

Maradona willed his team to victory in '86, and it made him great. People are expecting Messi to do the same, particularly after El Pelusa anointed him as his successor, as reported by Sky Sports' Tom Adams.

Following the strange 2013-14 season that saw Barcelona and Messi go trophyless, he can't fail. As much as football is a team sport, anything but an Argentine world title will be viewed as failing, and it will impact how the world will remember him.

It shouldn't, but it will. In the shadow that Maradona has cast on Argentine football, Messi has been tasked with finally delivering the goods.

For all of his greatness, his legacy will truly be on the line when the 2014 World Cup kicks off.