Is Messi The Best Ever? Not Without International Glory First.
Get the best email in soccer.
Here’s a question for the ages: Can Lionel Messi be considered the greatest footballer who ever lived without winning a trophy in a major international tournament?
The answer is a definitive “no.”
Lionel Messi and Argentina opened up the 2015 Copa America campaign with a disappointing 2-2 draw against Paraguay. This draw was particularly disheartening for the Argentines because, up until the 60th minute, Argentina was up 2-0. Paraguay’s Nelson Valdez cut the deficit in a half in the 60th. Then, right at the death in the 90th minute, Paraguay striker, Lucas Barrios, Mr. Dependable, nodded the game up at two goals apiece.
As much as things change, things stay the same. This outcome was fairly typical for Lionel Messi and Argentina. They enter the tournament as one of the favorites, as they should, having the best player alive on the pitch. But the results are never quite as expected when it comes to Leo’s international career. Until Lionel Messi and and his Argentina compatriots break this international hoodoo and actually win something, Lionel Messi will never be considered the best of all time.
When the debate for best player of all time is had, Lionel Messi’s name comes up against two men: 1) His fellow Argentine, Diego Maradona, and 2) Brazil’s, Pele. Let’s compare these three men and see who’s actually won when it mattered most.
The man Lionel Messi is most often compared to, and rightfully so, is his countryman Diego Maradona.
Over Diego Maradona’s glittering albeit controversial career, he inspired his country to a 1986 FIFA World Cup victory. Not only that, but during that tournament a whole world of spectators became enamored with Diego, El Pibe de Oro. He put on dazzling displays, like his run from beyond the halfway line of the pitch and scored what people consider the goal of the century.
That’s something Lionel Messi has never had. A whole nation, beloved Argentina, and the world, in love with him. Sure, Lionel has won four European Cups, and a boatload of Spanish silverware. But not everyone was watching. The FIFA World Cup is the most watched football event in the world and Maradona won it. Everyone was watching.
One could go as far as to say that because Lionel Messi has never won a World Cup with his country, Maradona will always be more loved in Argentina. After all, religious movements have sprung up bearing Maradona’s name.
Lionel Messi, on the other hand, remains a mere mortal.
Pele, many argue, is better than both Maradona and Messi. Why? Because he won more and won more emphatically.
At 17 years old, Pele scored six goals to lead his country to their first-ever FIFA World Cup in 1958. He would follow up his dream debut and win another in 1962, going on to add his third and final World Cup in 1970. In 1970 Pele would take home the tournament’s Golden Ball, scoring four goals, including the opening goal of the final versus, Italy.
Again, this was a case of someone who arguably can be called the best-ever player, and he probably was, delivering on the world stage.
Messi did not make his FIFA World Cup debut until the age of 18 and, when he did, he only managed one goal. His team would go out in the quarter-final stage. Hardly the storybook scenario that endears you to millions watching around the world.
If Messi wins this Copa America in Chile, the debate can perhaps be reopened. Messi can start to enter the conversation of greatest-ever with, Maradona and Pele. If he wins the World Cup in four years time in Russia, Messi the “Little Flea” can then, and only then, change his nickname to “The Best Ever.”