Why he’s on our list
Well, he scored 41 goals in 46 games for Barcelona in 2013-14, and fans rated his season average to bad. That says everything you need to know about how good Lionel Messi is. Essentially, fans expect him to score a hundred goals a year or he’s just not trying hard enough. And, rightly so. If we possessed the talent he does in our left boot, we’d have swept it across the world and eradicated poverty and war.
All that’s needed for Messi to be crowned the undisputable best-ever is for him to win a World Cup with Argentina. He isn’t going to have a better chance than this summer. The tournament is in South America, Argentina have a group of talented attacking players and Messi is, ridiculously, just 26 years old.
Things to watch for
His captaincy: Messi, though undoubtedly Argentina’s best player, is a curious choice as captain. One of a football team captain’s biggest jobs is to protect his team-mates on the pitch, which entails shouting the ears off an opponent who is intentionally fouling or trying to intimidate one of your team-mates, letting the referee know every few seconds of the grave injustice he is doing your team, and pulling your hot-headed team-mates away from altercations. So, what is Messi going to do if Martín Demichelis and Mario Balotelli start screaming in each other’s faces this June? Also, we do hope that his pep talks are a little more invigorating than his interviews. We know you’re just an ordinary guy with an ordinary life Lionel, but give us a little teeth man, this is the World Cup.
His interviews: Only joking.
His chipped goals: Most everything Messi does on the football pitch is pretty to watch, but we go completely weak in the knees when he spots a goalkeeper off his line and just chips the balls so it hovers slowly in the air, teasing the keeper and the whole crowd and then elegantly drops into the goal. He didn’t score too many like that last season, and we’re hoping he’s been saving them for the World Cup.
What could happen in Brazil
For a long time, Messi was criticised for not being at his best when he played for Argentina. Cynics said he could not score as many goals without Barcelona team-mates Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniésta to assist him. He’s put all those doubts to bed in the past two years, scoring 18 international goals in 16 games, including three hat-tricks, one of them against arch-rivals Brazil.
Messi’s underwhelming season at Barcelona – they did not win any major trophies and he lost the pichichi to Ronaldo – could be the calm before a blue and white storm. With the European teams expected to struggle to cope with the heat and humidity in Brazil, Argentina, along with the hosts, are the favourites. Messi has only scored once in a World Cup. That’s bound to piss him off a little. And, he seems like the kind of guy who reacts to being pissed off by giving the first person he sees a shy smile before dribbling a maze around him, leaving him flat on his behind, and then gently rebounding the ball off his bewildered head into a goal.
Argentina and Messi blaze through their easy-looking group, not only winning but playing the kind of free-flowing attacking football that has pundits and fans saying they need to win the tournament to prove the existence of justice in the world. Before the group stages, a slight rift develops in the side as the snubbed Carlos Tevez begins tweeting a call for an uprising against manager Alejandro Sabella. Messi, the leader, emerges as he calms the tension and binds the side. In the quarter-final, against Portugal, Messi scores two early, but, realising the weak Argentine defence is wilting against Portugal’s incessant attacks, he takes up the left back position after half-time and stops Cristiano Ronaldo’s marauding runs down the right flank. The world marvels at how Messi can defend too. The tournament ends with Messi standing 40 yards away from goal and hitting a chip so precise it grazes an extra piece of fabric at the tip of the goalkeeper’s glove, then the bottom of the crossbar before rustling the back of the net.
What could (also) happen in Brazil
When a sportsman achieves so much at such a young age, invariable there are fears of burnout. When Messi returned from a leg muscle injury this January, pessimists began saying he was not as quick and agile as before. He has more than enough motivation to shake off any mental fatigue he may be feeling this summer, but his will may not be able to take him where his body refuses to go.
The other worry is that Messi may not find the right place in what is a star-studded Argentinean attacking line-up. Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuain are two of the world’s top strikers and Ángel di María one of the best attacking midfielders around. All four play for different club teams and will have to make sure they don’t get in each other’s way in Brazil.
A tired-looking Messi is outshone by his team-mates in the group phase, and fans begin complaining his superstar status is not good for the team. Agüero and di María take Argentina through to the semis, but when di María is injured before the semi-final against Spain, Messi is expected to step up to the plate. He doesn’t and makes it worse by running straight into Xavi and Iniesta’s arms after the game to seek consolation.