Perhaps it is true that Real Madrid will never be able to sign Lionel Messi. Lionel Messi has been Barcelona for all of his footballing life. He excels at what he does (beat defenders that is) and he does it at a place that has a special meaning to him i.e Barcelona.
So it hurts a lot as a Real Madrid fan to see a specialist with no equal play for a rival club. Barcelona is a great club but objectively speaking, it does not come near Real Madrid. Before Messi and Ronaldinho, Real Madrid was lightyears ahead of Barcelona in terms of meaningful trophies won i.e Champions League and La Liga (include Copa Del Rey as well but only those won against worthy opponents i.e not like Barcelona won last season).
It is also true that Real Madrid has the very next best thing the world of football has to offer, that is, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, statistically speaking, has surpassed almost all goal scoring records including that of Messi. No one in the history of football has been as consistent as C.Ronaldo when it comes to scoring goals. He did at Manchester and now he is doing it with Real Madrid. So Messi isn’t the absolute king yet. In Fact, he isn’t the king of football at all. Here is why:
Messi still has not left Barcelona. I made that point 5 years ago, 3 years ago and a year ago. No matter what he does next, he has to leave Barcelona if he wants to be considered the greatest of all time. Not only he has to leave Barcelona but he also has to perform at a high level (obviously not like at Barcelona as that is impossible) at his next club (if that ever happens). Lionel Messi is one of the greatest players of all time, there is no question about it, but we are talking about ranking him alongside other legends of football so the scrutiny becomes all the more tight. To make the grade, he has to leave Barcelona. Like Zidane, Ronaldo, C.Ronaldo and Figo, Messi has to prove that he can emulate the same kind of dominance on the field of play in any league and in any team.
- Messi still has not won the World Cup and probably never will as the next time World Cup comes around Messi would be around 32. And we all know what happens when you hit 30 and move on the wrong side of it. Yes, you lose pace, concentration and motivation. Messi, given his game relies so much on speed and acceleration (which is even more difficult to maintain as you age), will not be able to dodge and deceive defenders with the ease as he does now. At World Cup, there is no Levante or Sevilla or even Manchester City for that matter (since it has a foreign coach) whose defenders would get nutmegged all night long. Players are extra motivated for the World Cup and if they see the ball slip through their legs, they make sure the ball possessor doesn’t. At the World Cup, there is very little time to warm up or to form chemistry with other national players. The coach and the squad has to make do with whatever is possible and probable. Therein lies the main reason why Messi has never been able to showcase the kind of majesty for Argentina as he has for Barcelona. World Cup is the yardstick when it comes to measuring greatest of all times. Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo and most others legends of the game have ticked that box, Messi hasn’t and probably never will. If not the World Cup, Messi should at least win Copa America a couple of times before he retires. That of course would not be sufficient but still it would hold some weight in an argument at least.
- Messi has to wrack up some sort of a goal tally at the World Cup level if not a win tally of World Cups. He has played in 3 World Cups and if I am not wrong has a goal tally of 4 (and may even have a penalty in there somewhere). That is atrocious for a player that many want to put in the category of the greatest of all times. Pele, Zidane (two headers in the final) and Ronaldo (2 goals in World Cup Final 2002)have all scored important goals in important games at club and international levels to win trophies. Messi is yet to do that. He has only scored goals in meaningless games against meaningless teams. There are one or two gems that Messi scored against good teams but none were to win big trophies.
- Messi isn’t going to leave Barcelona since Barcelona keeps on pampering him. Barcelona offers Messi the contract that Messi wants, buy the players Messi wants. Barcelona also plays in a system that Messi wants to play in. Everything at Barcelona is carefully managed to accommodate Lionel Messi and no one else. That makes a hell lot easy to perform when contrasted with what Ronaldo, C.Ronaldo, Maradona and Zidane had to go through all their careers. New systems, new teammates and new teams is the reason most of us watch football. These variables make the game exciting, but with Messi all these variables are constants. He constantly plays with ‘the absolute best’ players playing behind him. He has Suarez, Neymar and Iniesta beside him. Daniel Alves, Alba and Busquets behind him. What more a player could want to excel in a free role. Messi can play wherever he wants and whenever he wants at Barcelona. In any other team, he would have to adjust at least a little bit and that is another yardstick through which great players are measured with.
- If we are talking about club football only, even though the World Cup is the gold standard when it comes to ranking in greatest of all times list, then Messi has to set global records (enough with Barcelona records as Barcelona is not a club with the richest of history). He can, may be, score a 1000 goals, win lots of Champions Leagues (with different clubs to have more claim on the greatest of all times title). C.Ronaldo is very close to him (he may even be a goal up or two) in Champions League goals while there is a plethora of players who have scored more goals than Lionel Messi while playing for teams lesser than the Barcelona Messi has played for till now. Messi has to set unique records and I am not talking about one night records. He can score 5 goals against sides like Bayern Leverkusen ten times and it would make very little impact on his overall CV. He has to score them in important matches and against big teams. He has to set records which get set once in a career, like total number of goals, number of Champions League with him being the center figure (weightage has to be given to the team and other players contribution as well) and then Messi could talk about being the greatest player of all time.
- One other significant point that Messi has to answer his rather specific to him only. Messi has to answer teams with good defences. Mourinho and other coaches like him have always managed to shut down Messi in big games. He has to silence those who continue (rather rightly) to criticize his performances against teams that play hard and tough. He has to settle his score (if we can call it that) with the likes of Mourinho and English teams which play English football i.e not like Manchester City under Pellegrini or Arsenal under Wenger.
Messi is probably the greatest dribbler of all time. The greatest influencer on the field of all time. He probably has one of the best visions the game has ever seen but that is not enough when it comes to being considered as the greatest player of all time.
In my opinion, Messi ranks in the absolute greatest of all times in only one category and that is of consistency. He has been consistent enough for long enough. We’ll talk about his dribbling, his vision and his influence on the field when he is able to perform against sides that not only want to play but also, want to hurt.