Separating sheep from GOAT
Reggae Boyz assistant coach says Messi legacy was secured before World Cup triumph
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates with the trophy in front of the fans after winning the FIFA World Cup final against France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, on Sunday, December 18. Argentina won 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out after regulation and extra time ended 3-3.Photo: (Photo: AP)

One of the major subplots from the FIFA World Cup final last week was that Argentina Captain Lionel Messi needed to win that game to put an end to the debate about whether he is football's greatest of all time, or GOAT, as it has now been popularised in an acronym.

Messi scored two goals in regulation and extra time and converted a penalty kick because a 3-3 draw meant Argentina had to beat France 4-2 to claim the world title. That performance also saw him claim the tournament's golden ball for being the best player overall.

"It's just crazy that it became a reality this way," Messi said after the final. "I craved for this so much. I knew God would bring this gift to me. I had the feeling that this was the one."

However, national senior men's football team Assistant Coach Merron Gordon says Messi was already the GOAT regardless of the outcome of the match.

Lionel Messi (right) of Argentina turns away from Jamal Lowe of Jamaica during the second half of their friendly match at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, on September 27, 2022. Argentina won 3-0.Photo: (Photo: AFP)

"I think he was the greatest before he played the final," Gordon told the Jamaica Observer. "But because football, or sport, is a title-oriented thing, you have to win the World Cup."

Messi's hunt for the World Cup this year was made even more compelling by his career rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, chasing that exact goal with Portugal. Both have achieved everything possible within their careers, except a World Cup title. It was seen as a now-or-never situation as Messi is 35 and Ronaldo 37, meaning this was likely the last time both would feature at a World Cup.

What that then suggests is that players' legacies in the game can be determined by fine margins. Had Ronaldo won the World Cup instead of Messi, the discussion would instead focus on whether he is the GOAT and he would have been compared to others in the game who have also been world champions, while Messi would perhaps no longer be mentioned.

Gordon says determining greatness should not depend on a margin as fine as the World Cup title, as there are iconic players who were not as well placed to win it.

Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo is inconsolable after his team lost the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final match to Morocco 0-1 at the Al-Thumama Stadium in Doha on December 10, 2022. (Photo: Photo: AFP)

"The conversation was 'Is Messi better than Ronaldo?'," he said. "Messi has won the World Cup and the conversation is no longer Messi versus Ronaldo, it's is he the greatest player ever? So, the Ronaldo debate went 10 tiers down. So, while the person may have been the second-best player we ever saw, he's no longer in the picture, because one of them won the World Cup. So, it's not a fair comparison to use a World Cup. Winning a World Cup does not just boil down to you."

Gordon spoke of other legends of the game who may not have had a chance to win the World Cup because of what nation they represented.

Such examples can be found in the late George Best of Northern Ireland, and former Liberia player George Weah, the only African winner of the Ballon d'Or (the yearly award for the world's best player). Northern Ireland's three World Cup appearances in 1958, 1982, and 1986 excluded Best, as his international caps were from 1964 to 1977. Liberia, on the other hand, has never been to the World Cup.

GORDON...because football, or sport, is a title-oriented thing, you have to win the World Cup (Photo: Observer file)

"What if your federation is not a supportive one," Gordon asked. "What if you're not in a good team? To win the World Cup, you have to get every single aspect right. You have to get the federation on board, you have to get the administrative staff, the technical staff, the medical staff, and the media, all behind the team. To win a World Cup is bigger than what you see going on on the field."

The title of GOAT is a matter of popular opinion, as no official award or trophy is given to whoever is believed to be deserving. The closest anyone has come to that is FIFA, the sport's global governing body, jointly awarding Brazil's Pelé, and Argentina's late Diego Maradona its Player of the Century in 2000. However, a century consists of only 100 years, while "all time" is as infinite as the debate on who that player truly is.

There are those who will say Pelé is the greatest, having won three World Cups, while others will say Maradona because he too captained Argentina to a world title in 1986. However, unlike Messi, neither has won seven Ballons d'Or nor has either won the UEFA Champions League, which Messi did four times.

Messi has bettered Pelé's all-time World Cup scoring tally of 12, with his 13 goals, seven of which came this year in Qatar. That places him joint fourth on the all-time World Cup scorers list with France's Just Fontaine, behind Germany's Miroslav Klose (16), Brazil's Ronaldo (15), Germany's Gerd Müller (14).

Messi has also surpassed Maradona for international goals as his 98 for Argentina in 172 games puts him third on the all-time goal scorers list only to Ronaldo (118) and Saudi Arabia's Ali Daei (109).

This milestone is still attainable for him as he says he is not yet ready for international retirement.

BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator

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