Whether a megastar at the World Cup finals ultimately qualifies for the Mt. Rushmore of his sport will be influenced in part by how many championships he collects. Though his skill and will surpass that of any peer, the rings are the thing for most juries of fans who place the uber-athletes on the pantheon.
Wait. Are we talking about LeBron James or Lionel Messi?
Both, actually. James, the two-time NBA champion who has nudged into the news this weekend, reportedly jetted to Brazil to watch Lionel and Argentina play Germany for the World Cup championship. Just as King James gets it that unreasonable basketball types still will rank him a half-rung under Michael Jordan and perhaps Magic Johnson because he has fewer titles, Messi as well needs a victory today to mute any unfair criticism that he does not compare to World Cup winners of yore such as another Argentine, Maradona, and Brazilian legend Pele.
Eager to preserve his legacy as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), Pele in recent remarks has fed the perception that Messi will remain a cut below until his team takes soccer's grandest prize. It's a tall order for anyone, given that the Cup is a quadrennial event, which limits any player to about three tries.
Besides, it's not as if Messi is a stranger to championships. He has accumulated 23, including six in the Spanish professional league and three in the UEFA ChampionsLeague. Maradona's total: seven.
Messi can close this case if his offensively challenged side conquers the emphatic favorite today. Through six games, he has received marginal support, with only four goals by teammates even though he draws multiple defenders. In such scenarios, as James might point out from his sport, somebody should be open enough to score.
Messi's reputation suffers somewhat from the overwrought evangelistic fervor still surrounding his countryman Maradona. The highlight clips confirm how Maradona could make magic. What they don't show is how much he stood around or ran aimlessly. Say this for Messi: He works considerably harder than Maradona ever did.
Superstardom can be a tough gig. Messi knows it. So does the tall, bearded American expected to watch from the stands.