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Sunday, July 13, 2014

The 2014 FIFA World Cup Final's Thread #1 For 7/13/14: A Legacy Already Fulfilled

Focus: How Lionel Messi Already Merits Being Right Next To Maradona And Pele, Even Without A World Cup Title 

Photo from Getty Images 

He posted a final message on Facebook, enthralled by what is to come forth. He wasn’t born the last time his nation won a World Cup, barely born the last time they were in a World Cup final.

It’s another step taken on the legacy of a 27-year-old from the town of Rosario, a legacy that has featured a tournament where he has answered all of the questions from any of his rational critics looking for that one incompletion on a glorious resume.

Yes, even before the final that could give him the one trophy missing from his glorious cabinet, Lionel Messi has answered any of the final doubts about his claims to be the greatest footballer in history with his monthly display in the rival nation of Brazil.

“Tomorrow we will play the most important match of our lives with this t-shirt,” Messi wrote on his Facebook page. “My dreams and my dreams are being fulfilled thanks to the work and the sacrifice of all staff that it has given everything from the first day and who has believed that it could be.”

Of course, anything short of winning that third world championship for Argentina would be a disappointment that will sit forever for him, especially if it is at the hands of the Germans once more. Deutschland has been a prominent reason in all of the ridiculous and myopic pieces written about the 5’7’ man supposedly never performing at his highest level at a World Cup, focusing on that fallacy and centering in on it as a trendy pre-tournament story.

The 19-year-old version of Messi inexplicably never got off the bench against the 2006 hosts in that quarterfinal that saw the Albiceleste bow out in penalties. A (then) overly too cautious Argentine manager Jose Pekerman wasted a chance to bring on the precocious teenager as a difference maker, as Messi had to watch Jens Lehmann become the match hero he could have easily been.

No one in a right mental state could blame him as a rising star overshadowed by the Juan Riquelme’s, Esteban Cambiasso’s, and Carlos Tevezs of the world, but criticism would come in South Africa four years ago. Criticism that still to this day is totally misguided.

One of the more annoying aspects of Messi criticism comes from those who look at his “0 goals scored” tally in 2010 and assume that Messi was a massive disappointment on the biggest stage. Either those people did not watch those matches closely, or simply didn’t watch the matches at all. Messi did the primary job labeled of any #10, be an immense creative force. He set up the goals or chances for Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, and Sergio Aguero, while being unlucky to score himself thanks the brilliance of Nigerian goalkeeping ace Vincent Enyeama. And surely it wasn’t Messi’s fault that the Diego Maradona led team had no sense of any defensive principle, as evidence by the 4-0 thrashing that Joachim Low’s side gave them in that infamous quarterfinal.

This time around, it’s not a quarterfinal that Messi’s Argentina with face Germany in. And this time around, there can be no level headed dispute of how valuable he has been to his nation. Some like Gary Lineker and a few others have the absurd feeling that he has “marginally disappointed” them, like he needed to have 10 goals by now or something. They’ve felt that his last three games just didn’t see him at his highest.

They clearly overlook his set up for Angel de Maria's dramatic winner against the Swiss, his valuable two-way play led to Higuain’s class winner against Belgium and his constant threat against the multiple defenders Louis Van Gaal’s Netherlands side place on him. The man simply can’t have his energetic displays he showed for the last six years before this injury plagued long season he endured at Barcelona and dominate every match. But to be disappointed by him, when he has been conspicuous whenever Alejandro Sabella's side required his services, is mysteriously bizarre.

It’s not about whether Messi was great with or without this tournament. Even casual fans who still only watch this sport closely every four years should know that. But it’s the 100% correct message that is sent to them, where this isn’t the only time he has made the clutch plays for Argentina and that his club legacy isn’t a secondary part of his career, that matters the most.

What if Messi does have a great final by scoring a brace or a hat trick, or setting up multiple goals for his side, only for Germany to score more and win? Does that automatically rule him out of being at least next to Pele or Maradona for at least four more years? Only a fool would be simple to think that. And in fairness to his collective body of work already amassed (a 4-time Player of the Year, three times Champions League winner, and possibly future Barcelona’s, La Liga and European club competition all-time leading scorer), he truly deserves to be in that discussion right now.

A World Cup title in the rival nation of Brazil would silence any doubters to that discussion, but there shouldn’t even be doubters in the first place. And if Lionel Messi has to still prove something else to you or anyone else right now, then those are standards that even Pele or Maradona would fail to amass.

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