OMNISPORT an GOAL
A year after dropping the Copa America final, Lionel Messi and Argentina are getting another shot at Chile.
The South American powers will meet in the Copa America Centenario final at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The rematch comes after Chile triumphed on home soil against Argentina in penalty kicks to win its first Copa America crown.
If Argentina wins the Copa America Centenario against Chile on Sunday, will Messi be accepted by all as the best player of all time?
There are several schools of thought at play here. One is that he has already done more than enough to earn that title, that one more trophy should not make a difference.
It is true that, in terms of sustained performance at the top level, few, if any, footballer in history can match his exploits. More than 40 goals per season for the last seven seasons, hitting a peak of 73 in 2012, is a breath-taking achievement that cannot and will not be overlooked.
But, as we know, Messi is about far more than just goals. He is about those moments of magic that get fans on their feet, and quickly onto their phones to post about it on Twitter. People don’t just enjoy these goals on their own, they want to share the incredible highs, they want to be a part of his legacy, whether they support Barcelona or not. It is an achievement that no sportsperson in any field can match. Sure, we all enjoy football at the top level, but we don’t seem to revel in the highs as much as we do in Messi’s.
There have been so many of them. That individual goal against Real Madrid during the ‘World Series of Clasicos.’ the solo effort against Athletic Bilabo in the Copa del Rey, and, maybe more than any other, his roasting of Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng. Even at this Copa, he has added to the list. The 19-minute hat trick in Chicago in front of a crowd who would’ve been content just to see him run around. The free kick against the United States, one of his best ever goals. The vines and gifs were plastered across the internet as Europe woke up to yet more brilliance.
Few things attract as many clicks as football highlights but none are lapped up as much as Messi’s.
But that the Argentine’s moments of magic so often result in a goal speaks volumes. That those goals often result in trophies says even more. He has won all there is to win for Barcelona, including eight league titles and four Champions Leagues. He has won the treble twice. He is the perfect combination of entertainer and winner.
Not for Argentina. Not yet, anyway. Leaving aside the curious argument that Argentina’s all-time leading goal scorer has not performed for his country, it is a fact that he has not been able to deliver success on the international stage.
Had he won the World Cup in 2014, the argument would have been put to bed once and for all. Those who were desperate to revel in his undisputed legacy then lowered the bar slightly a year later, so that victory in the 2015 Copa America would be enough for Messi to match Diego Maradona and Pele, the only two men considered to be greater (and two who had never won that particular trophy).
Defeat to Chile, though, meant the wait went on. The doubters, whether in the Maradona or Pele camps, insisted more and more that Messi simply cannot be considered the best ever. Those two camps, by the way, have been unable to agree on a winner in the 19 years since Maradona retired, or the 30 years since he won the World Cup.
So where would winning this Centenario edition leave Messi? Even CONMEBOL seems unsure as to the status of this tournament. On Friday, two days before the final, South America’s governing body changed its mind and said this is an official tournament and the winner will be the official defending champion. Arturo Vidal, midfielder for the current defending champion Chile, took exception: “What CONMEBOL said is crazy, the trophy we won in 2015 we will defend in 2019.”
That sparked a reaction and Alejandro Dominguez, CONMEBOL president, moved to clarify the matter. “Sunday’s winner is officially champion of the Copa America Centenario, which is a one-off in the history of football.” So that didn’t clear anything up – is it official or not?
CONMEBOL then released a statement on the matter in a bid to keep everybody happy. Chile, it says, will be defending champion between 2015 and 2019, will represent South America at the Confederations Cup as planned, and will be able to wear a badge on its shirts confirming the status as champion. It also added that this Copa is an official, FIFA-recognized title, which co-exists alongside the regular tournament.
So it’s everything and nothing. Quite fitting, then, for an argument which, more than likely, will never be settled definitively.