DOHA, Qatar (AFP) — Thirty-seven club trophies, seven Ballon D’Or awards and six European Golden Boots.
A Copa America title, an Olympic gold medal and a list of scoring and statistical records that may never be beaten.
Over the course of an 18-year career Lionel Messi has, with one obvious exception, won the lot. And won it again and again.
On Sunday, the 35-year-old Argentina captain has the chance to fill the last remaining hole on his CV: A World Cup winners’ medal.
For Messi’s most ardent admirers, victory over France at Doha’s Lusail Stadium will settle the debate over where he ranks in the most exclusive inner sanctum of football’s pantheon.
Messi’s career achievements to date have already earned him the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Diego Maradona, Alfredo Di Stefano and Johan Cruyff.
Does a World Cup win on Sunday nudge him ahead of that exalted company? Some think it does. Others think he already stands alone.
“I don’t have any doubt saying that: he is the best in history,” was the verdict of Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni after Messi’s virtuoso display in the 3-0 semifinal win over Croatia.
Former England captain Alan Shearer said he has long regarded Messi’s compatriot Maradona as the greatest player of all time on the basis of his 1986 World Cup triumph in Mexico.
“If Messi were to win it here, my view would change,” Shearer told the BBC.
A more nuanced view came from former Argentina striker Jorge Burruchaga, scorer of the winning goal — set up by Maradona — in the 1986 World Cup final victory over West Germany.
For Burruchaga, Messi has been the greatest player of an era where only Cristiano Ronaldo can rival his achievements. But the 60-year-old says comparisons with previous generations are futile.
“Win or lose, Messi is not more or less than Maradona,” Burruchaga told AFP.