There is a small chance that you have never heard of Lionel Messi; a very small chance.
For most of the football world, however, he is “Leo the Great”, “the Football Messi-ah” and he currently reigns over a vast kingdom rich with history, fame and fortune.
There is no shortage of superlatives to explain or describe the genius that is Messi.
Pick any internet video, any game, any competition on earth, on any continent and you will see the sheer magic of a player whose ability cannot be confined to mere words. Within Messi is an overflow of talent and skill that leave opponents and team mates, friends and foes alike, in awe. His footwork, his ball control, his speed and his ability to score goals at will is nothing short of mesmerizing.
There should be no debate on whether he is the best player in the game today. That particular chapter has been discussed and, hopefully, closed.
The record books have already confirmed the obvious and Messi has already outdone feats that were once considered unmatchable. The only debate left appears sacrilegious to football die-hards: Is Lionel Messi the greatest footballer of all time?
This topic leaves many football purists foaming at the mouth.
For decades there have always been great players with incredible achievements. Some players shine for a few years, some a decade and some dazzle the world for a solitary tournament. But for all the players to have achieved success in this “beautiful game” and for all the medals and trophies collected, the measure for greatness has always began and ended with Pele and Diego Maradona.
Between these two players is the embodiment of greatness and unexplainable gifts that have mesmerised followers to a level that borders on cult status. No one in the history of the sport has ever been mentioned in the same breath as these two men. No one until Messi.
At the tender age of 25, has Messi played his way right into every conversation about Pele and Maradona and does he even threaten to surpass them?
The idea that Messi can be as great as Pele and Maradona is hard to accept for many. The idea that he can be greater than them is impossible and some refuse to even entertain the discussion.
So, instead of gauging Messi’s status by his status, critics prefer to focus on the major trophy he has not won: the World Cup. It is the only thing that has eluded Messi, apart from actually walking on water.
To lift the World Cup is certainly a tremendous accomplishment but is it possible to overstate its importance?
Spain and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, for instance, has won it along with everything else in the game. But I think we can agree that, when the dust settles, “El Nino” will not be remembered as being in the game’s top five players. And, barring some miracle, he probably won’t get in the top 10 either.
But, with or without the World Cup, Messi is already there. His legacy as a football great and legend is in place.
And as for Pele, Maradona and that elusive World Cup title, time is on Messi’s side too.