Lionel Messi is widely considered the best player in soccer today. He is a human highlight reel who has even drawn comparisons to Argentina legend Diego Maradona, from Maradona himself who called Messi his successor.
Is he that good? Well, that remains to be seen. For those of us who have any knowledge of soccer history, Maradona single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina and sliced his way through the English defense in the quarterfinal game scoring what is referred to as the Goal of the Century.
Messi, 22, has played his entire club career with F.C. Barcelona where he has won four La Liga titles. Upon joining Barcelona at age 17 he became the youngest player to ever play a La Liga game and the youngest to score a goal. As of 2010 he is Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer in the Champions League and in the 2009-2010 La Liga season he scored 34 goals, second most all-time in a single season tying Ronaldo’s output from 1996-1997. He led Barcelona to victories in Copa del Rey, European Champion Clubs’ Cup and La Liga in 2009.
Internationally, Messi, while playing for Argentina’s National Team, has won the Gold Medal in the 2008 Olympics and the Under 20 World Cup in 2005. He was a member of the 2006 Argentina World Cup squad but was not a starter.
His individual awards include the 2009-2010 Gold Shoe, the 2009 FIFA Player of the Year Award and the 2009 Ballon d’Or.
For Argentina to have a chance at the World Cup Messi is going to have to deliver in the same way he does for Barcelona. He will be relied on to make plays from midfield using his excellent ball skills and creativity. He will also need to use his speed to keep opposing defenses on edge. Messi’s one weakness, too often trying to finish by himself, cannot be his weakness this June in South Africa.
Messi is obviously Argentina’s best player and the best player in tournament. At age 22 he will have several more chances but if he wants to be revered like Maradona is in Argentina, he is going to have to play like he is the world’s most elite player.
Argentina’s group, Group B (Greece, Nigeria, Korea), is relatively weak and Messi will probably have a field day in the opening round but once Argentina, barring a major letdown, advances to the knockout stage where they may play Mexico, South Africa or France, he is going to have to elevate his game making smart decisions on the rush.
Is another Maradona-like goal on the horizon in 2010? Watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup, beginning June 11th on ESPN and ABC.
For more information on Messi and the awards listed above, visit:
Wikipedia: Lionel Messi
F.C. Barcelona: Lionel Messi
Sources: ESPN, FIFA