The irony of the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) discussion is that team accolades are used as a deciding factor to display individual greatness.
Many people believe that Lionel Messi cannot be considered the best soccer player who ever lived because he has never won a major trophy with Argentina. His longtime rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, has the advantage over him in this department because Portugal defeated France to win Euro 2016. People forget to mention that they won the final without the five-time Ballon d’Or winner because he had to leave the match in the 25th minute due to an injury.
At 34, this year’s Copa América and next year’s World Cup give Messi the best chances to win silverware for his homeland while he’s entering the end of his prime. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner, a record, has won everything with Barcelona. At the international level though, heartache may be the best word to represent all the disappoint Messi has had to endure with his national team. As a member of La Albiceleste, the ten-time LaLiga winner has suffered defeat at the last stage four times.
The first was the 2007 Copa América final where Argentina lost 3-0 to Brazil, who were the defending champions. The criticism was that the result was an embarrassment because the five-time World Cup champions were missing key players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano while the 15-time Copa América winners, a record, were at full strength. In 2014, La Albiceleste lost the World Cup final to Germany. Gonzalo Higuain missed a sitter, but Messi received all of the blame for not doing enough to inspire a victory. In 2015, Chile defeated Argentina in the 2015 Copa América final on penalties, 4-1. Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer was the only person who made a spot kick for his side.
The next year, a special edition of Copa América took place to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tournament. The two-time World Cup winners faced La Roja in the final once again and the result was the same. This time, Messi missed his penalty and people began to wonder why he was a consistent performer for his club but an underachiever for his country. All of the criticism forced Argentina’s all-time leading scorer to take a brief retirement from international duty.
In 2019, Argentina lost in the semifinal of Copa América to Brazil, 2-0. The backlash returned as Brazil went on to win the tournament even though Neymar was injured and was not able to play in the competition. After the result, Messi was backed by a former teammate who also happened to be the Selecao’s captain at the time.
“Being the best player in the world must be difficult. If we lost yesterday, the whole team would have been guilty, but in Argentina everything is Leo’s fault. I feel sorry for him,” said Dani Alves.
Fast forward to this year and La Albiceleste will face Colombia in the semifinal of Copa América. Messi has been the best player in the tournament as he leads the competition with four goals and four assists. This is arguably the last time Argentina’s captain will be at his height in this event. The next Copa América will take place in 2024 and Messi will be 37. To many, his legacy is on the line.
Author: Dan Adu-Gyamfi