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article imageLionel Messi's legacy remains intact despite World Cup loss

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jul 14, 2014 in Sports
Social media went haywire when Lionel Messi was awarded the Golden Ball winner of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil over James Rodriguez and Arjen Robben.
Minutes after Messi had lost the most important game of his life, the 27-year-old received an honour that will fade away into obscurity. Messi isn’t fixated on winning on individual awards; he simply wants what’s best for his team. The foiled look on his face as he walked down the steps with the individual honour personified his discontent, as he watched the Germans –– who impeded his World Cup dream in 2006 and 2010 –– bask in glory.
“I’m very hurt at not being able to bring the Cup to Argentina,” Messi said.
“I am very angry at the way we lost, so close to the penalties, especially as we had the best chances. I do not care about the ‘golden ball’. I am just upset by the wasted chances."
Messi didn’t break down in tears like Diego Maradona did in 1990, but apart from their birthplace, diminutive stature, and a few similarities in their playing styles, the two players are contrasting figures. Messi is an introvert that tends to stay away from the media, while Maradona was an outspoken leader, with a vivid competitive edge.
Millions took to Twitter and Facebook to share their delight, and express the multiple reasons why Messi’s consolation prize was undeserved; some went as far as stating it was a marketing ploy orchestrated by Adidas. The player who completed the most dribbles (46), and created chances (23) didn’t merit an award according to those who flooded social media websites outraged.
According to whoscored.com, Messi’s attacking teammates paid him no favours as Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio combined for 1 goal from 34 shots. The cries for Carlos Tevez will gain prominence in the next few days, but he was never in contention for logical reasons.
Nonetheless, the reaction to Argentina’s loss wasn’t surprising, as we live in an age where this has developed into the norm.
We’re afraid of change.
We want to cherish and forever keep our nostalgic memories close.
We set insurmountable goals amongst the great players of today, and ridicule them when they fail to deliver.
We forget that they’re human, and irrationally expect them to do the impossible because those mentioned amongst the all-time greats apparently reached these particular heights.
It’s the treatment that greats such as Sidney Crosby and LeBron James endure on a yearly basis in their respective sports because of Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan.
It’s never good enough.
No matter what they do, criticism will always follow them.
Messi, on the other hand, will forever live in the shadow of Diego Maradona. Regardless of the records he breaks and sets, or the trophies he wins at the club level, Messi will never eclipse the legacy that his former coach or Pele cemented.
It’s not that Messi hasn’t already done so, or is incapable of exceeding the illustrious greats of the past; it’s the fact that we won’t allow it.
Messi has set the bar so high for himself that failing to win the World Cup against a superior German side is considered a failure.
The talking point surrounding the tournament was focused on Messi “cementing his legacy” by winning the World Cup. A tournament that is widely considered second fiddle to the Champions League in terms of competition, and that doesn’t consist of the best players in world football.
A seven-game tournament that occurs every four-years, after a highly exhausting European season, defines whether a player is amongst the immortals of the game.
A tournament defined by fine margins, a players form and injuries, determines your fate.
You don’t choose your teammates, you play with what’s available, and you must win.
That’s the predicament Messi has endured since 2010. It’s the absurd belief that filters throughout soccer followers across the world, as your legacy lives or withers like a plant deprived of water and sunlight into the ground at the World Cup.
From an individual perspective, Messi was sensational in South Africa –– he produced much better performances than he did in Brazil –– but because he failed to score a goal, and was steamrolled by the Germans due to Maradona’s tactical incompetence, the 27-year-old was lambasted. Messi buzzed around the final third at lightning pace four years ago, creating chance after chance, he nearly dented both post and crossbar, and consistently evade challenges, but it wasn’t meant to be.
And while Messi grew in stature following the disappointment of South Africa, the talks of his legacy picked up in the buildup to this year’s World Cup. Banter about Messi saving himself for the World Cup subsequent to his return from injury surfaced, along with many reiterating the presumed importance of leading a country to glory.
Pele and Maradona did it, while Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane followed, so certainly Messi had to match their achievements.
However, we tend to overlook the contrasting eras and the vast difference between the football played in Pele’s time.
We forget that Pele’s Brazil was knocked out of the group stage in 1966.
We forget that Brazil won the World Cup in 1962 without Pele. We also forget that Pele was fortunate enough to play with the likes of Jarzinho, Didi, Vava, and Garrincha.
Despite Maradona equally enduring a quiet game in the 1986 final that many obsess over, the Argentine turned creator and his teammates –– unlike Rodrigo Palacio and Gonzalo Higuain –– buried their chances. Maradona’s failure in 1982 and 1990, along with the shambolic events that took place in 1994 –– when he showed up overweight and failed a drug test –– will be forgotten.
Likewise, Ronaldo and Zidane have both endured their World Cup failures, but they were both gifted with world class players to aid them to glory. That’s the main misconception about the World Cup; the aforesaid greats required world class assistance to reach their goals. The World Cup winners of the past thrived due to a collective effort opposed to sheer individual brilliance.
Messi, however, nearly bucked that trend.
On paper, Alejandro Sabella possessed an unstoppable attacking quartet consisting of Gonzalo Higuain and two world-class performers in Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero, but injuries forced Sabella into fielding a one-man attack.
Higuain recovered in time for the tournament but only performed at an adequate level from the quarterfinal onwards. Apart from di Maria’s performance against Switzerland –– in which he was wasteful in the final third –– the Real Madrid midfielder was underwhelming, and Sergio Aguero was never fully fit.
It was Messi’s brilliance that guided Argentina out of the group stage, scoring exhilarating goals against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria, and Iran, and Sabella’s side may have watched the knockout round at home if the 27-year-old wasn’t present.
Messi’s brilliance didn’t end there. Although he cautiously managed his energy levels, and drifted out of matches, the 27-year-old learned from his experience at South Africa. He was the best player against Switzerland, despite Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami's double coverage, and created di Maria’s winner. Then he ignited the move for Higuain’s winner against Belgium, and provided the pass of the tournament that di Maria failed to convert.
While Louis van Gaal’s Holland successfully man-marked Messi out of the match –– at times instructing three players to close him down –– Argentina were the better side throughout 120 minutes, and rightly won the match via penalty shootout.
Messi had silenced the critics.
Sabella’s cautious approach may have restricted Argentina’s attack, but the outstanding Javier Mascherano was the key cog as a mediocre Argentina side defended superbly as a collective unit, recording three clean sheets in 330 minutes to make their first final appearance in 24 years.
Messi, though, was basically operating as classic play-maker, dropping deep to receive the ball and aiming to create chances for himself and his teammates. However, their attack was laboured at times due to the stagnant off the ball movement when Messi received the ball, along with the 27-year-old's difficulty evading several challenges en route to goal in deep areas.
Likewise, Messi was the catalyst in Argentina’s best moves against the Germans, drifting to the right to attack space behind Benedikt Howedes. Messi received a glorious chance to give Argentina the lead in the second half, following a glorious Lucas Biglia ball, but he skewed his shot inches wide of the net; where he appeared to tweak his hamstring.
Fatigue kicked in the latter stages –– Argentina endured a day’s less rest and an extra 30 minutes against Holland –– and Sabella’s men fell victim to Mario Gotze’s winning goal.
Messi’s dream came to an end.
The chance of a lifetime passed him by.
Four years from now Messi will be 31, and there’s no certainty that he will be performing at this level, or whether Argentina will field a better side.
Still, while Messi didn’t meet the high expectations placed upon himself, he certainly proved he could succeed outside of the Camp Nou with average teammates. Argentina wouldn’t reach the final without Messi, and his moments of brilliance sees the nation return amongst the elite in international football.
We live, we analyze, and we criticize; it’s what we’re trained to do.
Perhaps Messi is subject to scrutiny based on past achievements, but the diminutive attacker did all he could.
At the age of 27, Messi is rightly placed in the conversation amongst the greatest players to play the game, and will likely exceed them when his career comes to a conclusion.
Cherish him while you can, because you may never see a player of his stature in your lifetime.
More about Lionel messi, World Cup, Argentina, Barcelona, Fifa world cup
 
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