For the longest time, it’s been almost sacrilegious to compare Lionel Messi to Pele and Diego Maradona for the simple reason of the former not having a World Cup medal.
Older football fans will point to Pele’s heroics in 1958 and 1970, and Maradona’s role in securing the World Cup in 1986, as evidence that the duo are the greatest to ever have played the sport. For 15 years, this was a hard stance to argue against – even as the genius of Messi made itself more apparent with each passing season.
Pointing out Messi’s longevity, Champions League wins, and record-breaking goal scoring seasons often fell on deaf ears as, alas, the legend was without reward in the game’s biggest tournament, and had not even won the Copa America.
Both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, despite how many goals they scored, seemed to have a glass ceiling in the eyes of the older fans. Generational greats? Yes. All-time greats? Not even close until one of them got their hands on the World Cup.
I’m not suggesting that Pele and Maradona aren’t legendary football talents, however, I would argue that Messi’s greatness has now surpassed everybody who has come before him. He’s been easily the best player in the world since at least 2009, a reign far longer than both Pele and Maradona, and has now won both continental and worldwide honors for his country.
Messi will never match Pele’s World Cup haul of three, but everything else on his CV says he’s the best ever. There were the dizzying heights of the Pep Guardiola team at Barca, there was the power of the MSN (Messi, Suarez, Neymar) trio in the mid 2010’s, there was the outrageous 91-goal calendar year in 2012, and there was the fabulous showing at the 2022 World Cup.
Lionel Messi’s 15-year spell at the summit of football has finally delivered the prize that had eluded him for so long. As far as I’m concerned, we can close the history books and proclaim that he is now the greatest player of all-time.
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