There was a time in soccer history where World Cup performances defined a player, but with the growth of the club game and the gratuitous access we have to games around the world, the quadrennial tournament is now only a small part of a player’s renown. Though some persist in believing the game’s biggest stage define a player’s legacy, that attitude’s a relic of a time where there were no other options.
Thankfully, Pele doesn’t persist with that notion. According to Spanish outlet Sport, the Brazilian icon, who won three World Cups from 1958 to 1970, sees no reason to left Argentina’s close calls tarnish Lionel Messi’s legacy.
While conceding “[m]aybe [Messi] was not very good” in Brazil 2014’s final, Pele noted “it does not show he is a bad player,” preferring to keep World Cups in perspective:
“Both Argentina and Brazil have had several players who could have won the World Cup and did not.
“Messi is undoubtedly a great player and we cannot take away from him his credit because he did not win the championship.”
When the best players only played each other once every four years, there was more (if still flawed) information to glean from World Cups. Now the competition is as much about tradition and spectacle as it is defining the best of anything. Elite players meet constantly in the club world, while our ability to watch any prominent national team play leaves no mystery, only competition, come the World Cup.
To define Messi by one tournament would be worse than dismissing Steve Gerrard for not winning the Premier League, though he’s won the European Cup. And who would do that? Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won every domestic league he’s ever touched, but superficial assessments of his career harp on his lack Champions League glory. How is that a reasonable standard?
Dwelling on team results when assessing an individual is an easy enough fallacy to disprove. Unfortunately, the fallacy is also very easy to evoke. Sometimes, convenience wins out.
Pele’s saying the obvious. Then again, we’re blogging it. Regardless, this is a conversation that’s more flash than substance. Messi doesn’t need a World Cup to maintain his place in any Best of All-Time discussion. He just needs to keep on being Lionel Messi.