Lionel Messi's World Cup Failure Won't Define Legacy of Greatest Player on Earth

Stuart Howard-CofieldFeatured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

Argentina's Lionel Messi scratches his head as he goes up to get his runners-up medal after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014. Germany won the match 1-0  (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Victory for Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final might just have ended the long-running discussion about who the world's greatest footballer is. 

As it stands, Germany's triumph has ensured that the debate will continue to rage and that there are those who will continue to judge Lionel Messi as falling just short in comparison to Pele, or that other Argentinian footballing demi-God, Diego Maradona.

However, the argument that Messi had to win the World Cup to be deemed truly great is a flawed one.

Despite the pomp and ceremony surrounding such awards as the Ballon d'Or and Sunday's Golden Ball, it must be remembered that these are mere baubles compared to the real prize.

Jeremy Wilson and Henry Winter of The Daily Telegraph carried Messi's comments to reporters that he himself cared only to win the World Cup and not for individual awards: “Right now I do not care nothing, not about my prize, nothing. I just wanted to lift the cup and bring it to Argentina. The pain is very great."

But football is not an individual sport; it is a team sport in which some individuals truly excel, utilising their skill to lift the game to greater heights, unlock defences and make us dream. 

And so, we have great footballing luminaries such as Johan Cruyff, Eusebio and Alfredo di Stefano. All lit up the game for supporters, yet they never lifted the World Cup. As John May of the BBC reported, Pele once called Manchester United's George Best "the greatest footballer in the world." Best hailed from Northern Ireland. He never even qualified for the World Cup finals.

The weight of favour often tips against Messi because of the widely held belief that Diego Maradona almost single-handedly won the World Cup for Argentina in 1986, whereas Messi has yet to set a World Cup tournament alight.

You are then also comparing different eras, which poses its own problems. Some tackles that are now deemed dangerous would be waved on in the past, whereas space and time on the ball are at more of a premium in today's game.

It may be true that Lionel Messi's performances at Brazil 2014 were not up to the standard that we have come to expect from the man, but what standards they have become. And despite the feelings about 1986, one player cannot win the World Cup alone. Argentina huffed and puffed toward the final this year and faced a powerful Germany side built upon team ethics—and they took them to within minutes of penalties.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

In club football, though, Messi has done it all, and over a sustained period. He has risen to become the focal point and inspiration of one of the greatest-ever club sidesa Barcelona side that Sir Alex Ferguson was moved to call the best team he had ever faced in the press conference following Manchester United's 3-1 defeat in the 2011 UEFA Champions League final (h/t Rob Draper and Bob Cass of the Daily Mail).

Ferguson was in no doubt as to who ran the show, stating, "They mesmerise you with their passing. We never controlled Messi but many teams over the past couple of seasons could say that." That's proof that Messi can deliver on the big stage.

We are truly blessed to be able to witness the career of a player whose ability, flair and goalscoring prowess has helped his team lift three UEFA Champions League titles, two Club World Cups and six domestic league titles, along with numerous cup competitions—scoring more than 400 senior goals for club and country in the process.

Getty Images/Getty Images

Just as there is a need for us to compare every Brazil squad to those that have triumphed beforein the vain hope that they will still display the same silky attributes of their dazzling World Cup winning sidesso too do we compare Messi to a rose-tinted version of Maradona, asking him to prove himself time and again. 

His side fell agonisingly short of the line in a tournament that only comes around once every four years. In 2018 Messi will be in his 30s and his chance of World Cup glory might just have passed by. After the career he has had so far, World Cup winner's medal or not, surely a 1-0 extra-time defeat won't define him.

After all, let's not forget that Brazil's most fondly remembered side might just be their 1982 squad. As brilliant as they were, they failed to win the World Cup.