An inquisitive newspaper reporter once asked the Brazilian football legend, Pele, whether the world of football would ever see a player whose mastery of the game would approach his own or even surpass it. Pele, in his cocky and haughty manner, replied – Never. And he qualified his answer by adding that his parents shut the factory producing his type after his birth.
As preposterous as Pele’s statement was, there is a shade of truth to the patently vainglorious declaration. Did the Brazilian legend not score over a millennium of goals in his career – a record that has not been surpassed to this day. Which other footballer since the inception of the World Cup has won the competition at the age of seventeen and scored a total of six goals in the process? Has any of the celebrated players that played the game after Pele’s retirement won the World Cup trophy more than once – Pele, to jog our collective memory, won the World Cup thrice in four appearances?
Aside these seemingly unbeatable records set by Pele, other players with similar skill-sets and football brains have stridden across the football world, extending the frontier of what is possible and achievable with the round leather. A case in point is that of a certain Lionel Messi, who many football observers consider the greatest player that has ever existed.
Messi does not need any introduction. The pint-size Argentine is arguably one of the most popular footballers in the world, and he has won many trophies playing for the star-studded Catalonia club, Barcelona. In spite of his prodigious talents that safely put him in the same bracket as Pele, the Barcelona players has failed to win any international trophy since he announced himself to the world over a decade ago.
Next year Messi will be participating his fourth World Cup tournament, a competition in which he has only won a runner-up medal . And should Argentina fail to win the trophy in Russia, he runs the risk of ending his football career without winning any major trophy at the international level.
A lot of football followers have criticized Messi’s for his inability to deliver or to make the difference during tough matches. They quickly reference how Argentina lost two consecutive Copa America Trophies, with Messi playing at the height of his ability. His compatriot and former manager, Diego Maradona, of whom something will be written later, once accused of Messi of lacking the mental strength needed to win important tournaments.
Some of Messi’s detractors have argued that his football genius only becomes operational when his amongst his Barcelona colleagues. Many people are baffled people by Messi’s mediocre performances with his national team- a team that it usually composed of players with extra-ordinary football skills.
Diego Maradona – Messi’s compatriot, also considered by many as one of the greatest footballers of all time – was not as prolific a scorer as Messi in his heydays; and Messi has since overtaken the total number of goals Maradona scored for the La Albiceleste. However, Maradona almost single-handedly won the World Cup trophy for Argentina in Mexico’ 86. And in the next edition which was hosted in Italy, he dragged a mediocre Argentine side into the final match of that tournament.
What made Maradona’s feat remarkable in 1986 and 1990 World Cup tournaments was the simple fact that he was the lone star in both teams. He didn’t have the cast of talented players that have been at Messi’s disposal in the three World Cup he has participated in. Football genius aside, Maradona was a motivator who could turn up trumps when Argentine team found themselves in a strait.
Messi, who is currently the captain of his national team, is too much of a self-effacing person to inspire his team when they are down in morale. He betrayed his timorous nature when he hastily announced his retirement from his national team in the wake of their second consecutive Copa America final match loss to Chile in 2016. The humble and easy-going Messi was at his wit’s end and just didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to pursue his dreams with his national team. Although he was later argued out of his decision, his initial action showed that he lacks the temperament of a fighter.
Messi it is true has won five FIFA Ballon d’Or awards in the last eight years, but his inability to win the World Cup trophy makes those awards meaningless. The best players in the world should be able, even if it is once, to win the most prestigious football competition in the world. The other exceptionally gifted players from different eras that preceded Messi’s all won at least one World Cup trophy – the Zinedine Zidans, the Diego Maradonas, the Ronaldinho were all World Cup winners etc.
To end this write-up a brief reference must be made to what Pele said about the possible emergence of future star who may surpass his achievements. It is true that Lionel Messi won’t win the world Cup as a teen-aged player again, or win three World Cup trophies, or score more than a thousand career goals; but Messi, when his football story is told at the completion of his career, will be remembered as footballer whose technical ability was at Pele’s level but failed to knock off the Brazilian off the perch he mounted over five decades ago.