Lionel Messi is “The Greatest Of All Time”

Lionel Messi got the World Cup trophy he always wanted and earned the G.O.A.T. title everyone wanted to give him.

“This was the trophy I wanted all my life. This was my dream from childhood. I knew that God was going to give it to me, I had a feeling that this was mine.” – Lionel Messi.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup Final is being hailed as the greatest World Cup final of all time, befitting then that the greatest soccer player of all time, Lionel Messi, and possibly the greatest future player of all time, Kylie Mbappé featured heavily.

While, the hat-trick scoring Mbappé has yet to prove worthy of the title of GOAT of soccer, and with his future still largely unknown, Messi is most likely on the cusp of retirement from the international soccer stage. In his final World Cup, Messi reached deep within and pulled off one of the greatest performances of his life, and reaped the reward – his first World Cup title, one Argentina had been pining for since their last great soccer legend, Diego Maradona led them to victory (albeit controversially with the “Hand of God”) in 1986, ending the drought, bringing the Albiceleste jersey a third star. It meant even more to Messi. He has for now, hushed the voices of doubt whether in his own mind or from critics. He became the new G.O.A.T. of the soccer world.

Over two decades, Messi has accumulated a lion’s share of awards – 10 La Liga titles, 1 Ligue trophy, 7 Copa del Reys, 7 Supercopas de España, 4 Champions League titles, 3 UEFA Super Cups, 3 Club World Cups, 7 Ballon d’Or awards, 1 Copa América title, 1 U-20 World Cup, 1 Olympic Gold Medal, and 1 World Cup. The 35-year-old sensation from Rosario, Argentina, who moved to Spain in 2004 when he was 13 years old, has devoted his life to his passion, a sport that in many ways has become synonymous with his journey, is now a talisman of his nation, and a symbol of a hero’s journey to millions.

He first appeared for FC Barcelona at a competitive level at the age of 17 and quickly established himself as a cornerstone for their next series of successes. By the age of 22, Messi had won his first Ballon d’Or, a pinnacle of greatness in the world of the global game. He quietly won four consecutive ones, a first for any athlete. Messi set La Liga and FC Barcelona standards as being the top goal scorer. He climbed to the role of captain in 2018 and in 2019 finally lifted the La Liga title as skipper. He also won his sixth Ballon d’Or in that year as a result.

He joined Paris Saint-Germain in 2021 and embarked on a new phase of his life and soccer career where he plays side-by-side his international rivals, Mbappé and Neymar. In 2022, Messi helped his new team win their 10th and his first Ligue 1 title, ending his first season there with 6 goals in league competition, a drop from his double-digit standard established in 2007.  But, proving himself again fit for the moniker, best of all-time, Messi picked up his form and competitiveness, as well as his on the pitch chemistry with his teammates, scoring already his 7th goal of the league season by the end of October.

Messi’s greatest crusade, known throughout the world and across all nationalities, his great white whale hunt, the quest to a World Cup trophy, began in 2006 when he first appeared for his country, securing not only his place as youngest player to represent Argentina in a World Cup, but also as the youngest player across all nations at the tournament to score. However no hero’s journey comes without a period of struggle, and Messi’s came furiously. Throughout the tumultuous Maradona-led years, Messi and his team gave lackluster performances, and were eliminated in the quarter-final round of the 2010 World Cup by Uruguay in a penalty shootout.  

He rebounded in the 2014 World Cup, netting his first goal at that level in eight years and captained his team to the Final. But they fell short and lost the tournament to Germany. The spirit of Argentina still belonged to Maradona, and, with his usual impeccable timing, Maradona criticized FIFA for awarding Messi the coveted Golden Ball trophy. The defeat was followed by another two, when Argentina fell to Chile in 2015 and 2016 in consecutive Copa América Finals. The soccer icon missed a spot-kick in the final shootout. He was in the thickest fog of his darkest chapter. A storm of negativity from the media, from his nation, and from within had built into a tornado that swallowed his pride and soul.

The boy who grew up under the shadow of Maradona became the man who in 2014 proudly declared, “Argentina is my country, my family, my way of expressing myself. I would change all my record to make the people in my country happy,” was now hinting at retiring from his national team under the weight of anxiety. That retirement was short-lived. He returned to the fray a week later. The following 2018 World Cup qualification campaign was a messy one at best, and their performance in the tournament was equally flat, in spite of Messi setting personal records in assists tallied across 4 World Cups. After a draw against Iceland and a loss to Croatia in the opening group stage, they finally fell to France in the Round of 16.

When defining greatness, there’s more than awards, accolades, and trophies. There is a legacy to build within both the sport and the general world. To quote NBA’s trailblazer, Michael Jordan, whose spirit still lingers across the league, “To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish.” Messi too, along his rise to what he perceives as his greatest achievement, has unselfishly empowered and built an era of stars in the soccer galaxy some of whom now play for Argentina and in top clubs around the world, and ensured his own lasting status of legend as a byproduct. The 2022 World Cup winners embody that legacy. At least six of the players who started alongside Messi in the 2022 World Cup Final grew up idolizing him.

Tottenham Hotspurs center-back Cristian Romero was 8 years old when Messi played in his first World Cup. The 24-year-old former Juventus and Atalanta defender has played alongside many of the world’s finest, but he admires none more than he does Messi. He even helped Messi win his first major international trophy in 2021, starring as the Albiceleste triumphed in the Copa America. And while he is quick to proclaim Messi’s status as a soccer god, he is also most impressed by the legendary personality. “He is very humble and really that’s what stays with me the most.”

Golden Glove winner Damián Martinez was 13 when Messi first represented Argentina in the 2006 World Cup. He did not make his senior international debut until summer of 2021, after an exceptional season for Aston Villa, spoke highly of their not-so-secret weapon to reporters ahead of the start of the 2022 World Cup. “When we won in Brazil, they were considered favorites and it’s the same now, but we have the advantage of having the greatest player of all time,” said Martinez.

Julián Álvarez, the 22-year-old attacker who blossomed into a household sensation at the 2022 World Cup, has dreamt of joining Messi on the national team since childhood. “Messi has been my idol since I was a child. He’s my family’s idol… Messi is a hero for me,” the Manchester City forward announced on the Premier League team’s website. He’s now eclipsed that dream. The synchronicity between Messi and Álvarez on the pitch in the semifinal against Croatia was hard to watch without crying tears of joy. Nicknamed “La Araña,” which means “The Spider,” he’s on a path that will likely eventually shatter some of his idol’s records on the international level.

The modern-day full-back, Nahuel Molina was 8 in 2006, watching Messi play on the international stage, dreaming of his moment. Now, the 24-year-old Argentine is the recipient of the world’s biggest soccer trophy, and is on the brink of concluding the 2021-22 season as the highest-scoring defender in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues. When Molina was called up by Argentina for the first time last year to train and play alongside his idol, he was starstruck. “Like a dream come true, because I watched him on TV all the time when I was young and was just so inspired by him.”

Asked what made the difference in the final, Brighton midfielder Alex Mac Allister replied on ITV: “It is always Messi, it is always Messi. He is fantastic. I think he is the best player in the world, the best player of all time.” Mac Allister comes from Argentinian soccer lineage. His father played with Maradona. Mac Allister made six appearances for Argentina at the 2022 World Cup, scored the opener in a 2-0 win against Poland, and in their win over France, he was critical to the passing sequence for Angel di Maria’s goal.

The World Cup has quieted any doubt that Messi will never be able to lift himself and Argentina from under Maradona’s fame or infamy, depending on one’s perspective. Now, as another one of his current teammates who looked up to him as a youth, Rodrigo de Paul, insisted in an interview with Gol Mundial, “Lionel Messi is the best in history. There’s no doubt about it.”

Messi’s guaranteed place as the Greatest Of All Time, extends beyond titles, surpasses his records, rises above the goals on the pitch, and in fact does not rely upon his World Cup win. His relatability, his humility, and his struggles on the road to manifest his latest victory, inspired more than one generation of soccer players around the world. The true leader does not exude perfection and merely collect trophies, but also shows prowess at accomplishing feats that come with a personal sacrifice and dedication, grows and transforms themselves in response to every challenge for all the world to see. He may not be as fast as he was, but as Messi’s own soccer idol, Pablo Aimar, currently Argentina’s assistant coach, told La Nacion, “The best version of Messi is the latest version.”

Gazing upon his own dominion of soccer legacies across the world now, Messi can finally bask in their light knowing he finally achieved his deepest wish to make the people of Argentina happy, and in doing so, brought an entire world with him –  the players who stood on the pitch with him, the players who stood on the pitch against him, the players he will never meet who watched him, the countless millions who never even touched a soccer ball. They all know to be the greatest of all time is inherently meaningless, only a few can ever possess it, and those select few know that G.O.A.T. truly never belongs to any one individual for long.

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