Where Lionel Messi Ranks Among Argentina's Greatest Forwards
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is already well-established among the Catalan side's pantheon of greats. A hat-load of goals, four consecutive Ballon d'Or trophies and three Champions League trophies mean that the Argentine will go down in history as one of the greatest players to pull on the Blaugrana jersey.
But does La Pulga (The Flea) command the same respect in his native land? It is tough to say: Messi follows in a fine tradition of great attacking talents, all of whom have some claim to be called the greatest.
Judging Leo and his predecessors on a variety of attributes, most importantly goals for the national side in World Cups and other major tournaments, we can determine where the little superstar stands in the all-time Argentine attacking hall of fame.
10. Ricardo Bochini
The name of Ricardo Bochini is not a particularly familiar one outside of Argentina. The Independiente legend opted to stay in his home nation for his entire career, playing for the Rojo for almost 19 years. That loyalty meant that he was deprived of the chance to become an icon overseas.
But those who saw the playmaker and second striker take the field during his best days are left with no doubt: Bochini was one of the finest Argentinian players ever.
The Guardian's Jonathan Wilson credited him as one of the greatest exponents of "La Pausa," the momentary pause on the ball by playmakers before unleashing hell on the opposition. "[He] embodied the imaginative genius of Argentinian football, the kid from the streets who made good not by any advantage of upbringing or physique but through his untutored technical ability," Wilson wrote.
Bochini racked up over 600 appearances for Independiente, winning four national titles and an incredible four Copa Libertadores to help the Avellaneda club take the nickname "King of Cups." He also won a World Cup in 1986, having been picked for the squad upon the express request of one Diego Maradona.
9. Luis Artime
Another prolific forward with a deadly touch in front of goal, Luis Artime's greatest virtue was easy to see. Be it in Argentina with Atlanta or River Plate, in Brazil's Palmeiras or with the national team, the striker would hit the net in almost every single game he played.
Artime finished his career with 24 goals for Argentina, making him the nation's fifth-highest scorer of all time. More impressive, however, is how long he took to accrue his tally: just 25 caps, at a rate of almost one every match.
8. Jose Sanfilippo
San Lorenzo idol Jose Sanfilippo was not a genius with the ball at his feet like many of the stars on this list. His job once he stepped out of the dressing room was to score goals, something he did with style and aplomb for both club and country.
El Nene was crowned Argentina's Primera Division top scorer an incredible four consecutive seasons between 1958 and 1960, winning a total of three titles with the Ciclon as well as two Bahian championships with Brazilian side Bangu.
His 21 goals in 29 international appearances, meanwhile, tell the story of a player who was not overawed by anyone or anything once in front of goal.
7. Hernan Crespo
In almost any other country, Hernan Crespo would have booked his place years ago as one of the greatest strikers of all time. It is perhaps testament to Argentina's quality, then, that his time with the national team has been relegated to almost a footnote in its history.
Crespo was Argentina's second-highest scorer for years before Messi finally managed to topple the former River Plate and Parma star. He finished his career with a total of 35 strikes at a rate of more than a goal every two games.
6. Omar Sivori
The stand in River Plate's Monumental Stadium which houses their most passionate fans tells you everything you need to know about one of the club's most famous sons. The Sivori end takes its name from the Millonario idol and heaves with excitement and noise during a home game.
Omar Sivori helped the team to consecutive titles in 1955 and 1956 before leaving midway through the next season with River well on their way to a hat-trick. He went on to become an icon at Juventus, forming a formidable partnership with Welshman John Charles and in 1961 following Real Madrid's Alfredo Di Stefano as European Footballer of the Year.
Sivori's only disappointment as a footballer was failing to win more international silverware with either Argentina or Italy, both of whom he represented. The forward formed part of a scintillating attack in the Albiceleste alongside the likes of Orestes Corbatta, Angel Labruna and Osvaldo Cruz.
But after the Italian government prohibited him from playing for his country of birth following the move, he was deprived of the chance to shine in the 1958 World Cup. The previous year's Copa America victory hints at what could have been had Sivori gone to Sweden.
5. Mario Kempes
Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti took a shot in the dark when he called up Valencia's Mario Kempes to the 1978 World Cup. The Cordoba-born striker was no novice, but in the days before European football transmission became the norm across the Atlantic Ocean he was more or less an unknown to fans and even his team-mates.
El Matador responded to those doubts by leading the team from the front on home soil, smashing six goals during the tournament including two against the Netherlands in the final. Curiously, it was only in Argentina that Kempes managed to hit the net: His record in two other World Cups reads 11 games without a single strike.
4. Lionel Messi
Statistically, Messi is already well on the way to becoming one of Argentina's all-time greatest strikers. The Barcelona genius has hit 38 goals in 86 international appearances, overtaking Hernan Crespo to sit second in the table of top scorers.
But there is still a sense that there is much more to come from La Pulga. Certainly, his experience with the Albiceleste at international tournaments so far has fallen far below fans' and his own expectations. Charged with leading the team into this World Cup, a successful tournament could see him finally consolidate his standing as one of his nation's top idols, as he has done so convincingly in club football.
3. Gabriel Batistuta
With his imposing figure and flowing blond locks, it was hard to miss Gabriel Batistuta once he stepped onto the pitch. But knowing he was there was not enough: Defenders had to do everything short of stabbing the Argentina and Fiorentina icon in order to keep him away from the goal.
Batigol's record of 56 goals in 78 caps places him comfortably atop his nation's top scorers' podium, with only Messi likely to challenge his milestone (and not for a few years yet). The striker's rate of 0.718 goals per game is also light-years ahead of the Barca star's.
The No. 9 also picked his moment to hit the net. His 10 goals in World Cup finals is another national record, as are his two hat-tricks in the world's most important football tournament, a feat unmatched by any of his compatriots.
2. Alfredo Di Stefano
Real Madrid's honorary president Alfredo Di Stefano has become indelibly linked with Los Merengues and Spanish football in general over the last five decades. But we should not forget that before heading for Europe and the heights of sporting glory, the legend cut his teeth in his native Argentina.
Di Stefano smashed 49 goals in 66 matches for River Plate before he was tempted to trek up north to Millonarios in Colombian football's golden age. It was when the forward landed in Madrid, however, that the records really started to tumble.
Playing alongside Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa and the rest of the Merengue superstars, the Argentinian was arguably the jewel in the crown. He played a part in all five of the club's European Cup triumphs during that glorious run at the start of the tournament and was known almost universally as "The most complete player in the history of the game," per China Daily.
1. Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona is held up as the epitome of an Argentinian No. 10: short, stocky, with an incredible sense of balance and the ability to turn a game around with a jink of his waist. But it was actually playing as a second striker that El Pibe de Oro changed his nation's football history forever.
Playing just behind Jorge Valdano in coach Carlos Bilardo's 3-5-2 setup, Diego was the undoubted star of the 1986 World Cup. Argentina were unfancied prior to the tournament but were dragged to success almost by the sheer force of the Napoli man's personality, not to mention his spectacular goals.
For a country which has enjoyed countless superstars over the years, it is curious that the title of the best of all is never seriously discussed. Supporters from across the country are in agreement: Maradona was sheer perfection in an Argentina shirt.