EITAN ABRAMOVICH/Getty Images
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said Argentina ace Lionel Messi must win a World Cup if he is to be considered the greatest player of all time.
Argentina face Ecuador in their last 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier on Tuesday but are far from guaranteed a spot in Russia next year, and Infantino told Argentinian newspaper La Nacion (h/t Football Espana):
“Messi is extraordinary, but he is yet to win a World Cup. There are lots of amazing players who never won the World Cup and that is what made Diego (Maradona) so special in football—winning major titles for both club and country.
“Messi may be there [in Russia], and we may see him in 2022 because he very rarely picks up injuries, even if players try to foul him. They can’t get near.”
La Albiceleste lie sixth in the CONMEBOL standings and are still not guaranteed automatic qualification to the World Cup finals with a win should Chile and either Peru or Colombia win in their respective matchups.
Unlike Brazil legend Pele and Maradona, Messi has never won a World Cup, and the closest he has come to doing so thus far was a runner-up finish to Germany in the 2014 edition of the tournament.
Broadcaster Juan Arango provided further quotes from Infantino, who again pointed to the example of Messi’s heralded countryman as the shining example to follow:
Juan G. Arango @JuanG_Arango
Infantino: “The 80’s and 90’s belong to Maradona. The last 10 yrs to Messi. Maradona won a World Cup, Messi still needs to win one.”
Despite Messi’s surge to prominence as arguably the greatest player of all time over the past 10 years and more, Argentina have struggled to come upon much silverware success during that period.
It’s more than likely this will be the Barcelona icon’s last attempt at a World Cup, considering he’ll be 35 years of age by the time the 2022 World Cup in Qatar kicks off. However, Yahoo’s Ryan Bailey recently questioned whether this could be the end of his international career altogether:
Ryan Bailey @RyanJayBailey
New ⚽️🎥 for @FCYahoo: Are we about to witness Lionel Messi’s final Argentina game? https://t.co/6TB2Xo7VIw https://t.co/JDj9sFniyq
Messi’s career has produced almost unrivalled success as far as his club career goes at Barca, winning eight La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League crowns, three FIFA Club World Cups and more.
The 30-year-old has also won more Ballon d’Or awards than any player in history (five) and took his country to Olympic gold in 2008, but the Telegraph‘s Thom Gibbs and Jim White argued his national-team accolades to be minor:
Telegraph Football @TeleFootball
What has Lionel Messi ever done for Argentina? @thomgibbs and @jimw1 discuss on The Total Football Podcast https://t.co/FKXr6wrILO https://t.co/t0pQXjA6cg
One might disagree with Infantino, in that a team achievement—or lack thereof when referring to Messi’s failure to win a World Cup—shouldn’t dictate who the greatest individual player of all time is.
That being said, it’s difficult to escape the feeling Messi will be missing one major prize when compared to some of his peers should he retire without a World Cup, and that fate could be decided as early as Tuesday evening in Ecuador.