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World Cup or not, Lionel Messi is already the greatest

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Argentina v Panama: Group D - Copa America Centenario Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the World Cup looming, the usual questions have once again resurfaced in regards to Lionel Messi’s standing in the pantheon of football’s all-time greats.

There’s no denying that there’s a stone left unturned in the Barcelona legend’s storied career. For many pundits a World Cup victory is all that stands in the way of immortality for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, but despite having never lifted the most prestigious of titles in the world of international football the Argentine has shown through his dominance at Barcelona that he still deserves to go down as the best there’s ever been.

Messi’s plethora of titles and personal accolades is one that stands tall above the rest but look beyond these tangibles from such an accomplished career and you see a player whose skillset is almost celestial.

Barcelona v Athletic Club - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

There are few that have produced the kind of quality on the pitch that the diminutive Argentine has. It’s easy to point to his goalscoring feats but Messi’s brilliance isn’t confined to his ability to put the ball in the back of the net. He’s a lot more than just a finisher. Messi’s vision and adaptability are proven aspects of his game, just look at the amount of assists he produces on a regular basis.

Despite all this, the critics still decry his lack of international silverware. This lack of international success is cause for much debate but Messi has gained an unlikely ally in the form of fellow Argentine great, Diego Maradona.

Maradona has been critical of Messi in the past but it seems even he has come to realise that the Blaugrana talisman is otherworldly. In an interview with Omnisport, Maradona was quick to come to his countryman’s defence when asked about Messi’s lack of success with Argentina, stating that he has nothing left to prove.

“I would advise Messi to keep playing, to enjoy the game,” Maradona said.

“He has to forget about the critics, if he can win or not the World Cup, the Champions League or the Copa del Rey. He has to enjoy the game into the field.”

Maradona’s comments were well received but not all agree with his take on things.

Argentina’s national coach Jorge Sampaoli is another who has given his opinion on his star player’s World Cup dilemma in a book that will shortly be published, saying: “Messi has a revolver put to his head called the World Cup and if he doesn’t win it, he’s shot and killed.”

Russia vs Argentina - International Friendly

It’s a comment that has divided many pundits of the world game. There is little doubt in my mind that Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer to ever step foot on the pitch but without international success he will always have his critics.

A World Cup victory would undoubtedly be an everlasting ode to his greatness but by no means is it a prerequisite. World Cup victory or not, Messi is already the GOAT.