Every time Lionel Messi breaks a record, it is appropriate to compare him to the legends that came before him.
This year, he has rewritten soccer history on multiple occasions this season, and his latest record came when he scored his 86th goal of this calendar year, breaking Gerd Muller’s previous mark.
There is no doubt that Messi is currently the best player in the world, and that he will go down as the top footballer of his generation. But when he is judged against all-time greats like Pele and Diego Maradona, he still has work to do.
Here is what Messi must accomplish to become the greatest player in the sport's history.
While Messi may not have another year in which he records 90 goals, he must still sustain a similar level of production for the next several seasons.
Due to all of his accomplishments, it is easy to forget that Messi is just 25 years old. He still has many more successful campaigns left in him.
If he can avoid injury or lengthy slumps until his speed and skills start to decline due to age, he will continue to break records and win trophies.
If his résumé continues to grow in the coming years, Messi’s status as the best player ever will start to solidify in the minds of fans around the world.
Win Champions League Multiple Times
Messi has already been on the roster for three of Barcelona’s victorious Champions League campaigns, and he played an instrumental role in two of them.
In order to firmly establish himself as the greatest club football player in history, he must win the tournament a few more times.
Regardless of Atletico Madrid’s early-season success this year, La Liga is perennially a two-team race. Beating out Real Madrid to become champions of Spain simply does not add much to Messi’s legacy at this point.
But if he can guide Barça through a handful of seasons in which they are kings of Europe, his legacy for his club will be beyond reproach.
Win on the International Stage
Regardless of what Messi does for Barcelona, his legacy will be incomplete if he cannot win the World Cup with Argentina.
Both Pele and Maradona led their countries to the pinnacle of international soccer during their careers, and Messi’s performances for his country have been severely disappointing.
While he was still a teenager in 2006—and his lackluster showing is excusable due to his youth—he cannot brush off the disappointment that characterized Argentina’s performance in 2010. But the 4-0 loss to Germany two years ago seems to have sparked Messi.
He has 12 goals for Argentina this year, and this next World Cup may finally be Messi’s breakout performance in blue and white stripes.