LeBron James, fair or not, will always be compared to Michael Jordan, and the first point of comparison is championships.
Lionel Messi, fair or not, will always be compared to fellow Argentinian Diego Maradona, and the first point of comparison is World Cup titles.
Maradona has one, and Messi has none.
At age 27, having helped his team to the World Cup final, Messi was powerless to prevent Germany from snatching the victory in extra time, while Argentina had nothing in front of goal.
But the biggest difference isn’t necessarily the win or loss of the trophy, but the performances involved. The “Cosmic Kite” won the World Cup in what seemed like a one-man show. “La Pluga” couldn’t.
And that’s the difference.
There’s no doubting Messi is one of the greatest players to have graced this beautiful game. He has 243 goals in 277 La Liga matches. He has 43 international goals. He has untold amounts of trophies for both individual and team performances, including an unprecedented four Ballon d’Or awards.
His national team manager Alejandro Sabella acknowledged that Messi had already secured himself into the category of greats before this team had started, which is entirely true.
“I believe he is already in the pantheon of greats,” Sabella told reporters after the match. “He was there before the tournament and he’s been there for a while.”
Messi’s electricity and dribbling beauty is once-in-a-generation type stuff, and that is not debatable.
But with a gaping hole on his resume, it’s hard to establish Messi as among the best ever, even in his own country.
In this day of communication, technology, and social media, club performances in individual countries mean much more than they used to, but World Cups still define players and careers.
Look at Pele. He played his entire career in the Brazilian league, which doesn’t have the exposure as some of the larger European leagues (although it had much more pedigree at that time). But with three World Cup victories, he is unmatched in that category and is indisputably known as the best soccer player who ever lived.
For Messi to stake a claim for the “best ever” designation – or even come close – he needed a World Cup, and it eluded him.
There’s still time for the moment. If he can keep up this level of play another four years, there’s no telling what can happen given another tournament. But he’ll be 31 at that time, and there was no better chance than while in the prime of his career.
Argentina was a good team, but with few individual stars and a couple of key injuries, there’s no question he has a better team at the club level. It’s difficult – nearly impossible, in fact – for a player to win a World Cup mostly on his own, and that should never be expected of someone.
But Maradona did it, and therein lies the problem.
No credit should be taken away from Messi this tournament, legacy wise. The world already knows what he’s capable of. He’s still, as Sabella said, in the “pantheon of greats.”
But he did nothing to further his legacy this past month either, and without improvement, he still remains just “one of the greats.” Just ask Johan Cruyff.
And that likely doesn’t sit well with the “Little Flea.”
Arsenal – They fooled us again, you know? Arsenal ran through the Premier League following an Opening Day loss to Liverpool, not seeing another ‘L’ until a Dec. 13 loss at Everton. That one could count as a moment, but we’ll choose the following match. Raheem Sterling finished a classy Kevin De Bruyne pass to give the Gunners’ two losses in a row, and Arsenal wouldn’t beat a PL contender until toppling injury-hit Manchester United on May 7.
Bournemouth – Eddie Howe‘s bunch were winless in seven and trending downward when it arrived at Old Trafford on March 5. Marcos Rojo put United ahead in the 22nd and ex-Red Devil forward Josh King leveled via penalty in the 40th. The Cherries seemed doomed when Andrew Surman was sent off in the 45th, but somehow held on to grab a point (A missed Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty didn’t help things). Bournemouth won its next two, then drew Liverpool and Southampton en route to a top half finish.
Burnley – The Clarets can thank Mike Dean for their signature moment, a 1-0 win via a handled Sam Vokes effort that moved Burnley into ninth place in the league. Ninth place for little old Burnley. Sean Dyche‘s club would stay up. Now where will it go?
Chelsea – The Blues led the Premier League after August, but had dropped to eighth by the end of September. By the start of November, Chelsea sat fourth in the table. Everton arrived at Stamford Bridge, and the Blues absolutely throttled the Merseyside club. Eden Hazard scored twice, the first moments before Marcos Alonso made it 3-0, and both Diego Costa and Pedro had also scored before the match was through. 5-0 spelled the fifth-straight win, and the Blues went on to win a historic 13-straight PL games.
Everton – It was a season, or at least half-season, of “so close” for Ronald Koeman‘s men. It didn’t get much clearer than the match that followed the Toffees’ second loss in the Merseyside Derby. Everton looked set for a rebound and a win at Old Trafford when Ashley Williams’ handled Luke Shaw’s stoppage time shot to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic a penalty kick that stole a point for the Red Devils.
Hull City – Unsure if this counts as “the season”, but Steve Bruce quitting the club three weeks before the season because of a lack of transfer ambition (amongst other things) spelled doom for the club far before Marco Silva nearly saved their season.
Leicester City – Firing Claudio Ranieri was a massive risk. The Foxes had posted the most remarkable season in world soccer less than a year before cutting ties with the Italian. While some — like me — would argue that transfer pick-up Wilfred Ndidi was the real reason for the turnaround, it also coincided with the managerial change.
Liverpool – The Reds had a knack for playing like results were expected against lesser lights, and late conceded goals are easy to find when reviewing their season (See Swansea below). It happened against powerful Manchester United, but it also happened against Sunderland. Jermain Defoe scored the second goal of his brace in the 84th minute to cost the Black Cats two points… again.
Manchester City – Pep Guardiola led City to six-straight PL wins at the start of the season, but could only watch as Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs bettered him 2-0 at White Hart Lane to drop City to 6-1. It was one of just six losses on the season, five of which came away from the Etihad Stadium. That away form didn’t impress Guardiola, and it didn’t help City chase the title.
Manchester United – While their moment may still be coming in the form of Wednesday’s Europa League Final against Ajax, we’ll go with Jose Mourinho’s first tournament win with United: the EFL Cup Final. NBC analyst Robbie Earle often talks about good teams needing to find a way to win when they aren’t at their best, and United did it at Wembley. It could be a harbinger of what’s to come.
Middlesbrough – Boro went to West Brom on Aug. 28, unbeaten in a pair of PL matches. It remained unbeaten following the 0-0 draw, but the zero on its side of the scoreboard was extra significant for one reason: It was the first of a whopping 19 times that the Smoggies were kept off the scoreboard, including seven scoreless draws.
Southampton – Most of these moments are related to Premier League play, but the perfect summation of Saints’ up-and-down season may be the EFL Cup Final. Many believe Saints were the better side that day, only to fall short. The same can be said for their Europa League campaign. But results matter, and Saints didn’t make it back to Europe via either route.
Sunderland – The Black Cats managed to take multiple steps back for every step forward, so it’s fitting that we mark the 4-0 loss at home to Southampton on Feb. 11. It followed a 4-0 win against old manager Sam Allardyce and Crystal Palace and a scoreless draw against Spurs. Sunderland was battered by a pair Manolo Gabbiadini goals, and the loss started a run that saw the Black Cats manage points in a whopping three of its 14 remaining matches.
Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs lost just four Premier League matches this season, and responded to each with a PL win. Three of those were blowouts, and the fourth was a 2-1 May win over Manchester United. One of those bounce backs happened to be two weeks after a road loss to Liverpool and three days after Spurs were bounced from the Champions League by Genk, as Harry Kane scored one of his four season hat trick and Dele Alli also scored in a 4-0 demolition of Stoke City.
West Bromwich Albion – There’s a moment in every season which sees Tony Pulis‘ Baggies tease us with what they could do if they just allowed a little bit of open play to hamper their “Just Survive” mentality. This year it was a 3-1 win over Arsenal which begged West Brom supporters to imagine life in the Top Seven, only to let them down with another post-safety collapse. Woof.
That’s a fictional account of a conversation occurring between Yeovil Town’s Annie Heatherson and Manchester City star Carli Lloyd a moment before the USWNT star threw a ruthless red-card winning elbow in the mug of her mark.
“I think I will decide [on my future] in the next two weeks,” he said.
Asked if United would be his new club he replied: “Possible, possible.” Asked to give the chances on a scale of one to 10, Griezmann added “six”.
There’s a reported $112 million release clause in Griezmann’s contract, and few clubs will be able to meet it. The player has said he’s loyal to Diego Simeone, and the manager said he’s staying at Atleti.
Still, is Griezmann to Old Trafford fait accompli?