When Lionel Messi received the honour of a fourth successive Ballon d’Or in January 2013 the record books had been rewritten. The Argentinian forward had surpassed Michel Platini’s haul of three successive FIFA World Player of the Year awards with Juventus and cemented his place as one of footballs all time greats at a mere 25 years of age.
With three Champions League titles and six La Liga trophies behind his belt with a host of other triumphs individually and with Barcelona it is beyond doubt that Messi has reached the pinnacle in his domestic football career. In December 2012, Messi netted his 91st goal of an astonishing year against Real Valladolid meaning he’d bettered Gerd Muller’s goal scoring feat of 85 goals 40 years previously by a clear distance.
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup just weeks away, Argentina and Messi himself will have eyes on the Jules Rimet trophy. The most coveted prize in football hasn’t been in the hands of an Argentinian since 1986 and if ever there was a moment for Messi to end all doubt over who sits top of footballs all time elite then this tournament could be it.
For all his talent, Messi’s World Cup record is disappointing. Despite becoming the youngest scorer in the 2006 World Cup in Germany when scoring against Montenegro in Argentinas 6-0 win Messi has failed to leave his mark on the tournament. He failed to score at all in the following tournament in South Africa in which Argentina were subsequently thrashed 4-0 in the quarter finals by Joachim Loew’s powerful Germany outfit.
By the time Rio comes around he will be 26 years of age and alongside two of the most potent attacking threats in football in Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and PSG’s Ezequiel Lavezzi. With the competition being hosted in South America for the first time in 36 years, this could also prove beneficial for the Barcelona talisman.
Messi could also look at other footballing greats that have left a mark on a World Cup. Zinedine Zidane is a recent example. The 1998 World Cup final was all about the French magician as he bagged a brace in the Stade de France leaving Brazil well and truly beaten. Despite being sent off in the 2006 World Cup final he still ended his international and footballing career with three tournament goals and was voted the outstanding player in Germany.
Brazilian superstar striker Ronaldo is another case. The former Real Madrid man was took the 2002 World Cup by storm and led his country to their fifth triumph in their history. Ronaldo scored the winning goals in the semi final and final against Turkey and Germany and ended the tournament with an impressive eight goals.
Eight years before that, Hristo Stoichkov had his say in the 1994 World Cup in the USA. The Bulgarian forward netted 6 times to become the joint top scorer in the competition which saw his country reach the Semi Finals only to lose to Italy. That summer’s World Cup wasn’t the highlight for the Barcelona striker as Stoichkov landed the coveted Ballon d’Or prize for the first time.
This June could be Messi’s crowning glory. He may not have to win the tournament with his country but by leaving his mark in Brazil as top scorer or the tournament’s best player could and should be enough to cement his place as footballs greatest ever performer.