The Undeniable GOAT?: Messi madness sends Argentina through

Magical Messi steps up for his country with a hat trick against Ecuador to guarantee Argentina a place at the 2018 World Cup Finals

On a night when only a win would ensure Argentina’s progress to Russia 2018, Sampaoli’s men found themselves behind with just a few seconds on the clock. It looked like it was going to be yet another frustrating game for La Albiceleste. It’s at times like these that teams look towards a leader, someone to step up for the occasion. Who better to fill this role than the country’s talismanic forward, Lionel Messi. The Argentinean skipper brought his A-game to the pitch and pulled his country through to the World Cup.

“A leader is a dealer in hope” -Napoleon Bonaparte

Hope. This is exactly what Messi brings to the table for club and country. He gave Barcelona hope in the title race with a crucial goal in the dying seconds of the Clasico last season. He’s kept his nation’s World Cup dream alive with his decisive three goals in the final game of their World Cup Qualifying campaign. Just like Cristiano Ronaldo with his hat trick against Sweden 4 years ago, Messi turned up when his country needed him the most. It is this ability to pull out all the stops at the most crucial moments that sets the best apart from the rest.

Messi has also played a pivotal role in Barcelona’s exceptional start to the season. With 11 goals in the first 8 games, Leo is already 4 goals ahead of his nearest competitors in the race for the Pichichi Trophy. That, along with the fact that Cristiano has managed to get only one during the same period (he’s missed first 4 league games), should see him win the trophy comfortably this season. Messi’s contribution to his side is, however, a lot more than just goals. He’s just as good a playmaker and a dribbler as he is a goal scorer. This has enabled him to excel in the free role provided for him at club and country. All this coupled with his hunger for the game makes the 30 year old a joy for fans to watch.No other forwards in football at present can contribute on so many fronts with such high quality.

“If Leo isn’t heavily involved in the game, he gets very annoyed.He has to be where things are happening and to be part of the game, and it is true that if he goes ten minutes without touching the ball, then Barcelona and Argentina will struggle.” -Xavi to Diario Sport

Messi 2017/2018
Messi has been quick to get out of the blocks this season (Source: Eurosport)

WIth Messi in scintillating form, Barcelona should have high hopes for this season. Apart from the 1-0 win away to Sporting, Valverde’s men have been dominant in their other wins, including the 3-0 victory against Italian champions, Juventus. The initial losses to Real Madrid in the Super Copa games look to be very much in the distant past. Since then Madrid have often struggled while Barca have eased through games. The Blaugrana have a 5 point lead over the Spanish champions after just 8 league games. It would be foolish to not expect Los Blancos to get back to their best soon, but only if Barcelona hit a rough patch will Zidane’s men find themselves back in the title race. Considering the football the Catalans have been playing, this looks unlikely, but one can never be sure in La Liga.

Having turned 30 this year, Messi is slowly edging towards his senior years as a professional footballer. It will be interesting to see how he adapts his game to cope with his aging body. Just like with Gerrard and Ronaldo, a change in style of play might be required for longevity in the game. However, it’s too early to say when and if it might be necessary. A more pressing debate is whether Messi will choose to end his career with the Catalan giants. Barcelona are yet to sign him to a new contract, with his present one expiring next summer. Furthermore, the present political condition at Catalonia could result in Barcelona leaving La Liga ,creating more doubts about Messi’s future. This raises 2 massive questions:

  • Will Barcelona be able to cope without the world’s best?
  • Where will Messi be playing next season if he does decide to leave?

It will be naive to say that Barcelona will not be able to manage losing the little magician. Although they might find it difficult initially,Barcelona are a massive club and will certainly continue to be, regardless of Messi’s presence. At Barcelona, no player is irreplaceable, no matter how good. As to Messi’s potential future without Barcelona, City would definitely be his most likely destination. Manchester City are one of the very few clubs that can cope with financial demands of having the world’s best. The prospect of a potential re-union with Guardiola will no doubt be another attraction for Leo at Manchester. With that all being said, however, it would be still be very surprising to see him step out in new colours next season. Premier League and City fans would be well advised to not get their hopes up.

His lack of titles this year has made him a long shot for the 2017 Ballon D’Or, with Cristiano being the firm favorite. However, if he and Barcelona can continue with this form for the rest of the season, he should be on course for the Ballon D’Or next year. There’s the World Cup next year too, making 2018 the perfect year for Messi to establish himself as the GOAT, if he hasn’t already.