Did Lionel Messi have to win a World Cup to be the most effective? “What? No!” replied Diego Maradona at his kitchen desk in 2014. Maradona, the late Argentine nice whose shadow hangs over Messi’s profession, elaborated that successful soccer’s largest trophy “has nothing to do with it. Don’t confuse the 2 . . . a World Cup won’t take away something he’s executed”.
These phrases, revealed just lately in Diego Maradona: The Final Interview And Different Conversations, resound forward of Sunday’s World Cup last between France and Argentina. At 35, it’s most likely Messi’s final worldwide match. However ought to he fail to win the one prize he lacks, that will not weaken his declare to be soccer’s Best of All Time or “GOAT” — followers on social media typically seek advice from him with an emoji of the animal.
Two parts go into the making of any sporting legend: brilliance and persona. Messi has solely the previous, as if he performed like The Beatles whereas dressed as an accountant.
Whereas Maradona expressed his character on the sphere, Messi by no means tried to. He aimed solely for effectivity. There have been no pointless feints or prospers, by no means a touch of artwork for artwork’s sake. From the beginning he consciously pursued GOAT standing, chasing particular person data for objectives and trophies. Kylian Mbappé, a teammate at Paris Saint German however an opponent on Sunday, believed Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been pushed on by their private rivalry: “One with out the opposite may not have remained the most effective far forward of the others for 15 years.”
Messi’s routine for many of these years was to shine for Barcelona within the Camp Nou, then commute 25 minutes dwelling alongside the virtually empty midnight freeway to his nondescript household compound in small-town Castelldefels. The journalist Santiago Segurola wrote: “Generally Maradona was Maradona. Messi is Maradona day by day.” However brilliance on demand can turn out to be unusually boring.
Messi beat Ronaldo. Based on the Messi vs Ronaldo app, he has 791 profession objectives at a median of 0.79 a match; Ronaldo has 819 objectives however from 1,145 video games so solely averages 0.72. Exclude penalties, and Messi’s lead grows. He additionally has 0.35 assists per match, towards Ronaldo’s 0.2. None of this diminishes Ronaldo. In most eras he would have been the best. He was previous his finest this event, however then he’s 37.
All you may be is the best of your time. Evaluating completely different eras is unimaginable. Previous greats have been continuously kicked by defenders, whereas immediately’s superheroes are valued as TV content material and guarded by referees. That has given Messi and Ronaldo their longevity. Pelé, Johan Cruyff and Maradona between them performed simply two World Cup matches after turning 30: Maradona’s in 1994, earlier than he was banned for utilizing medicine.
Messi, winner of a document seven Ballons d’Or for world’s finest participant, has reinvented himself in center age. Rewatch his run towards 20-year-old Joško Gvardiol within the semi-final. He dribbled previous the Croatian defender however lacked the pace to speed up away, and saved having to idiot him once more. As soon as within the penalty space, he gifted Julián Álvarez a objective.
He now spends the majority of video games strolling, saving his waning energies for the toughest factor in soccer: the second of breaking open a defence. “He is aware of tips on how to exploit the slightest circumstance, the least motion,” remarked Javier Pastore, his former Albiceleste teammate.
All Messi lacks is a persona. Maradona, raised in a slum suburb of Buenos Aires, was drenched in Argentine lore. In 1986 he understood that his defeat of England avenged the Falklands battle 4 years earlier, when, in his phrases, British troopers killed Argentine conscripts “like little birds”.
Messi, who emigrated to Barcelona aged 13, embodies a unique Argentina: the technology that fled the nation’s financial collapse. He was raised virtually outdoors society, the joint product of a household and Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy. He could by no means stay in Argentina once more.
And Maradona got here first. Messi’s profession is judged by Argentines as a would-be repetition of Maradona’s. Messi at all times understood that his predecessor would imply extra, saying early in his profession: “Not in 1,000,000 years will I ever get anyplace close to Maradona.” Solely belatedly has he realized to specific emotion. After beating the Netherlands right here, he broke off from an interview to yell at Dutch participant Wout Weghorst: “What are you , idiot?” He’ll nonetheless by no means match Maradona’s verbal performances.
That doesn’t make Maradona the higher footballer. Sure, he received a World Cup and Messi could by no means. However as Maradona understood, knockout tournaments activate the best margins. Had the referee in 1986 noticed Maradona’s dealt with objective towards England, or had Gonzalo Higuaín, Messi’s teammate within the 2014 last, netted alone towards German keeper Manuel Neuer, Messi might need surpassed Maradona already. In all probability by way of sheer unhealthy luck, he has but to provide his compatriots an unforgettable second.
The declare that Maradona was the higher chief is fake. Messi is a unique sort of chief. A superb participant takes accountability for his personal efficiency. Messi takes accountability for the end result. Argentina want him to beat France. He feels the burden — generally vomiting from stress earlier than matches — however he accepts it. His Argentine teammates, who flew from around the globe to his celebration in Ibiza in June, respect it.
Messi’s triumph on Sunday can really feel predestined, the scripted ending. However even when he goes out in anticlimactic defeat, he could have been the best — most likely of all time.