After the Argentinian's hair-raising slalom leading to the third goal against Croatia (3-0), former England striker Gary Lineker pretended to wonder on Twitter: "There is still a debate? About the Goat "("Greatest of all time", the best player of all time, editor's note).

As long as the kid from Rosario, who arrived at FC Barcelona at 13, has not enriched his trophy cabinet with the most prestigious of them, yes, there will be a debate.

And Sunday's final is his last chance: he himself said that this World Cup, his fifth, would probably be his last, at 35.

For many Argentines, Messi is huge but there is still only one "Dios", Diego Maradona, the "Pibe de Oro", the one who brought them their second world title in 1986 at the end of a tournament. extraordinary.

And many other football lovers put Pelé and his three stars out of reach.

In 2019, the "King" had himself established a hierarchy: "If you ask me if Maradona was better than Messi, yes, he was. Much better."

four failures

Messi has however won much more than Maradona and Pelé.

Seven Ballons d'Or, four Champions Leagues, an avalanche of championships and cups with Barcelona then Paris SG, a Copa America in 2021, his only major trophy with Argentina, who had been waiting for this since 1993.

The brilliant N.10 scored goals by the hundreds, enchanted the world with his dribbling, his passes, his inventions, his speed, which aroused the horror of opponents, the ecstasy of supporters, the admiring amazement of football lovers.

Argentinian genius Lionel Messi struggles to digest the defeat in the World Cup final against Germany at the Maracana in Rio, July 13, 2014 © CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP/Archives

He is the captain of the Argentine selection, its top scorer (96 goals), the one who has worn the jersey the most (171 caps).

In the World Cup, he would not always have shone?

With eleven goals and eight assists, he sits at the top of the most decisive players in the premier competition.

Sunday, he will become the one who has played the most matches (26 in five editions), ahead of Lothar Matthaüs.

But the brilliant N.10 has still not won it.

He stumbled three times against Germany, including one in the final in 2014. And in 2018, he was disappointing against France in eighth (4-3), eclipsed by Kylian Mbappé, future world champion.

"An injustice"

Messi was born a year after Maradona's masterpiece, in 1987, in Rosario, in the north of the country.

Before leaving to build his legend in Spain, he was able to admire Maradona, who had returned from Europe to finish his career at Newell's Old Boys, one of the two major clubs in his city, then at Boca Juniors.

He therefore knows perfectly well the weight of a world title.

"Football owes a World Cup to Messi", said in 2017 Jorge Sampaoli, then coach of the Albiceleste, a few months before the failure of Russia.

Leo Messi hugs Julian Alvarez who has just converted his caviar for the Albieleste's third goal against Croatia in Doha, December 13, 2022 © JACK GUEZ / AFP/Archives

In Doha, Spain coach Luis Enrique, who trained Messi at Barca, said: "It would be an injustice for a player of Lionel Messi's stature to retire without having won a World Cup."

"It would be nice for such a player to win," adds Matthaüs.

During this World Cup, Messi added a weapon to his panoply: a touch of aggressiveness in the attitude, which is so popular in Argentina.

In Qatar, he displayed an unknown face of lodger, vindictive and angry after the victory of the Albiceleste against the Netherlands, with his now famous "Qué miras, bobo? (What are you looking at, moron? , Editor's note)", addressed to an opponent.


This sense of provocation was consubstantial with Maradona, like his excesses, this rage, this thirst for revenge on the whole earth.

A Buenos Aires shopkeeper shows off, on December 12, 2022, a t-shirt stamped with the famous "Qué miras, bobo?"

sent by Messi to a Dutch player © Luis ROBAYO / AFP/Archives

For Oscar Ruggieri, teammate of the "Pibe de Oro" at the 1986 World Cup, "Maradona was superior in everything": "Messi plays in a period when the referees protect him a lot. We touch his shirt and they take out the yellow. Maradona was scarred by serial killers."

Messi will never have the almost mystical aura that surrounds Maradona, victory or not on Sunday.

But he's not looking for her.

The speeches of the PSG striker remain rare and without relief.

His smooth image, less "bling" than that of his Portuguese rival Cristiano Ronaldo, was only tarnished by a conviction for tax evasion in 2017, a few weeks before his marriage to Antonella, his childhood friend, mother of his three boys.

It is only with crampons on his feet that Messi is immense.

If it is sacred on Sunday, he will be able to sit down at Maradona's table without any possible dispute.

This one was not always tender with his younger brother, but he said this in 2010: "Now I know which player will occupy my place in football, and his name is Lionel Messi."

© 2022 AFP