It's hard to believe that it has only been three weeks since the world stopped in its tracks to witness what many consider to be not only the greatest sporting event to ever grace our small, pale blue dot, but one of the best World Cups in history.
Though many felt the final was dull in comparison to the excitement provided by the previous three weeks, the game did bestow upon us a few of the gems that we had become accustomed to enjoying. Both Neuer and Romero did the final game justice with their incredible saves from between the posts, Hummels and Mascherano defended their ends of the field with non-stop ferocity and wrath, and Messi…well, for critics and fanatics alike, he was the disappointment that no one was hoping for.
During the first phase of the tournament, Leo led the team with heroic runs from the center and right side of the field, he bamboozled his way through defenders with little kisses of honey on the ball (my nod to Ray Hudson) while also opening spaces for other players, and he was impeccable when taking shots on goal during set pieces.
Unfortunately, his goal-scoring form took a wrong turn sometime after their last group stage game against Nigeria–Messi was unable to find the back of the net during the entire knockout phase.
There are those who believe that Messi failed Argentina with a string of lackluster performances, especially during the final in Rio, where they were defeated by Germany with a single goal during the last five minutes of the 120 minute game.
But can the dream of a third World Cup win for Argentina really be placed on the shoulders of one man?
Diego Maradona is the name that comes to mind when one thinks of a player dragging a team to a World Cup championship. He did it in 1986, and Messi was expected to do the same, thus solidifying his place among the gods of football.
However, the game has changed over the last 28 years.
In today's modern game it is impossible for a single player, no matter how great, to carry the entire weight of a team. The skill, speed, agility, and mental and physical fitness required to succeed as a footballer is beyond what was necessary 20 or 30 years ago.
Mike Trusson, a blogger at grassrootscoaching.com wrote, “the number of sprints and high intensity playing activities performed by players has nearly doubled since 2002…players have to be not only fitter in terms of endurance, but more athletic, quicker, more agile and require greater mental concentration to perform successfully at the highest level.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese hero and Balon d'Oro winner, is a prime example of the aforementioned statement.
CR7 was only able to muster one solitary goal during the tournament for the third consecutive time. In spite of his jaw-dropping skill and speed with the ball, the “Player of the Year” was unable to lead Portugal out of the group stage.
Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another incredible footballer in his own rite, couldn't even get his team past qualifications for the World Cup.
It would be impossible, or, at the very least, highly improbable, for Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world today, to accomplish Maradona's winning feat.
Does that make Messi any worse of a player? Of course not. His individual achievements alone merit him a place in football heaven. Now toss in the plethora of trophies that he has guided FC Barcelona to, and his status should definitely be upon the stepping stone towards legendary.
La Pulga has already earned himself a place among the greatest of all time; he will forever stand next to immortals like Pele, Maradona, Beckenbauer, and Cruyff, the latter of which never won a World Cup either. In fact, he helped lead Holland to the final only to be defeated by none other than West Germany.
Thirty years from now, when Leo has long since retired from the game, his lack of a World Cup win will be a mere footnote below his record-breaking accomplishments, and the chants of “Messi, Messi” will continue to echo throughout all eternity.