Can Lionel Messi be the GOAT without International trophy?
Background photo: Elizabeth Da Silva Brites Santos CC BY-SA 4.0
The debate for the greatest player of all time is something that will never cease to exist among soccer fans. Football, in its rich and illustrious history, has witnessed fantastic talents aplenty over the years. There are several superstars from different eras involved in these debates, but one name who'll always be in amongst the conversation is Lionel Messi.
Argentina's prodigal son starting winning the heart of the people during his days as a teenager in FC Barcelona's famous La Masia academy. He rapidly progressed through the ranks and quickly earned promotion into the senior team. As a 17-year old, Messi was handed his debut for the club in a La Liga game against Espanyol on October 16th, 2004, where his potential was glaringly obvious for anyone with even half a footballing brain.
The dribbling, intelligent movement, passing, and goalscoring prowess quickly signalled him as one to watch for the future. He developed at an insanely fast pace, displaying tremendous maturity and composure on the ball despite being a relative baby in footballing terms. After leading Argentina to claim both the 2006 Under-20 World Cup and the 2008 Olympic Gold in Beijing, Messi started drawing comparisons with national hero, Diego Maradona, whom he shares a lot of similarities with in terms of appearance and style of play.
Messi became the main man at Barca and reached the pinnacle of his career under the guidance of Pep Guardiola. He made history by leading Los Blaugrana to claim a historic sextuple in 2009, earning the prestigious Ballon d'Or award in the process. Ever since then, success has remained a constant in the career of the diminutive playmaker.
With 5 Ballon d'Or awards, 6 European Golden Shoes, 4 Champions League trophies, 10 La Liga titles and 6 Copa Del Rey triumphs, Messi has established himself as one of the most decorated superstars the football world has seen. As a matter of fact, during the past few years, these achievements have given birth to many claims that he is truly the Greatest Player Of All Time (GOAT).
However, while Messi's exploits with Barca deserve recognition, there is a stain on his career that always divides the opinions amongst fans... Despite winning everything at club level, scooping a trophy for his beloved country has continued to remain elusive, despite going close on numerous occasions.
The attacker led the Albiceleste to the 2014 FIFA World Cup final in Brazil but failed to inspire his side as they were defeated 1-0 by Germany in extra time. Messi got the chance to make up for that in consecutive Copa America finals in 2015 and 2016 respectively, but again, the little magician came up short. The 2018 World Cup in Russia ended in disappointment, too. It has been pure heartbreak for Messi and Argentina, which does go some way to explaining why he has decided to 'retire' from international football on more than one occasion.
His eternal rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, took another step ahead of him by adding the UEFA Nations League title to his cabinet this summer. The Portuguese now has two international titles to his name having won the Euro Cup in 2016, which only puts more pressure on Messi's shoulders.
If you look at the other players who are often mentioned in the 'GOAT' debate; Pele, Maradona, De Lima Ronaldo, and Zinedine Zidane, just to mention a few, these players tasted success with their national teams and will be remembered for those heroic deeds. Whether you're a Messi fan or not, this blot on his resume cannot be overlooked.
Don't get it twisted, Messi belongs in the highest class football has to offer and those who believe he is the greatest have their solid reasons for it. But, his mediocrity at the international stage represents his achilles heel, and fans who're firmly behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the argument tend to use that as a stick to beat Messi supporters with...
It's also worth noting that Messi could still have ample opportunity to break his international hoodoo, with the player revealing that he won't quit Argentina following their collapse against Brazil in the Copa America semi-final just last week. He'll still have another crack at the whip during the 2020 edition of Copa America. Though I'm not sure he'll still be lacing up the boots for Argentina when the 2022 World Cup rolls around.
If he eventually does triumph on the international stage, Messi will begin to drag more footballing fans into his corner, but until then this old-age debate will continue to rumble on...