I’m on vacation this weekend, so blogging time has been hard to come by, but I had to weigh in, at least briefly, on the Lionel Messi question. Coming into this game, pundits theorized that, unless the Barcelona forward led Argentina to victory against Germany in the World Cup final, he would forever remain in the shadow of former Argentine hero Diego Maradona. Is that the truth? Let’s examine this theory together.
Who’s Better Internationally?
There’s no question about this one, unfortunately. For at least the next four years, the answer will always be Maradona. You can point to whatever statistics and honors you want–Messi has 42 career goals to Maradona’s 34 and both now have Golden Ball honors (Maradona in ’86 and Messi in ’14)–but “El Pibe” brought home a World Cup championship to Argentina in 1986 (against West Germany, no less), and that’s something that will overshadow Messi’s international accomplishments (of which there really are none to speak of) forever. That could change in Russia, 2018, but odds are that Messi, at 31, will no longer be quite the best player on the field by then, and it won’t be his World Cup. When Argentina won the cup in ’86, there was no doubt who brought them to the promised land. The same would have been said about Messi this year, despite the fact that he probably has a better team around him than did Maradona (not that you would have noticed the way they all played this year).
Who’s Better at the Club Level?
Here, Messi becomes the no-brainer answer. Maradona’s unequivocal talent never quite translated to success at the club level. Maradona did have some impressive accomplishments in his club career, scoring 314 goals in 608 career games and winning the Argentine league title with Boca Juniors in 1982, two Serie A titles with Napoli in the late 80s, and several other minor cup titles for Napoli and during his time with Barcelona. Unfortunately, his European club career was marred by a few injuries and tons and tons of cocaine. Most importantly, he failed at Barcelona, where Messi has had all of his successes. Messi never even played in the Argentine league, as he was signed to Barcelona’s youth program as 12 year old and moved to Spain right then and there. In 2004, he became the third youngest player to suit up for Barcelona (17 years and 114 days), and the youngest ever to score a goal in La Liga (since broken by Bojan Krkić). Since then, “La Pulga (The Flea)” has scored 373 goals in all competitions for Barcelona, which is the most in club history. Considering he hasn’t yet played in 400 games, that’s pretty absurd. He’s led Barcelona to countless championships, both in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, and he has won FIFA’s Ballon d’Or in three out of the four years it has existed. He’s the best club player in the history of the sport, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.
So… Is Messi’s Legacy Tarnished?
The answer to this question is more complicated than the other two. It all depends on where you ask the question. In Spain, he’s the best of all time. Nothing he does on the international level will ever tarnish that. By the end of his La Liga career, he’ll be the league’s most prolific scorer by a long shot. He will, undoubtedly, lead Barcelona to a few more league titles, maybe a couple of more UEFA Champions League titles and lord knows what else. In Argentina, however, there’s only one cup that matters, and it’s the World Cup. Unfortunately, Messi has never brought that one home. Messi is also a bit of an outsider to the Argentinians. They’ll never love him like they do Maradona–a kid who came from nothing to lead the Albicelestes to glory. Messi left at a young age, and has lived in Spain longer than he ever did in his homeland. He’s not one of them, and without a World Cup championship, he might never be.
Featured image courtesy of: The Independent UK
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