Lionel Messi has finally won the FIFA World Cup, and can claim to be the greatest male footballer of all time

Home Sports Lionel Messi has finally won the FIFA World Cup, and can claim to be the greatest male footballer of all time
Lionel Messi has finally won the FIFA World Cup, and can claim to be the greatest male footballer of all time

The 2022 FIFA World Cup just became a coronation.

Football almost never delivers perfect narratives, so when it happens it’s all the more impactful.

And so it was at Lusail Stadium today, as the greatest player the game has known won its ultimate trophy in dramatic fashion.

Lionel Messi, at 35, has finally won the World Cup with Argentina, leading his national side to an epic victory over the 2018 champions France, with a penalty shootout required to decide the winner after a 3-3 draw.

And we can, more comfortably now, crown him the finest men’s footballer of all time.

It was only fitting that Messi’s heir apparent, Kylian Mbappe, surged towards the end of this game, scoring three goals in a losing side.

Messi had been the best player in the tournament but was fading towards the end of the final. It seems destiny got in the way to deliver him the ultimate prize.

The only asterisk that hovered over his legacy was a failure to win the biggest prize in the sport — the World Cup Trophy. That failure is now a gleaming success story.

Final stamp of greatness a long time coming

By five years into his professional career, it was obvious Messi was dancing alongside the gods — the Maradonas and the Pelés.

But while those two in particular earned their legacies early with World Cup wins (relatively young for Maradona at 25, extremely young for Pelé at 17), then spent the rest of their careers defending their reputations, Messi has almost been the opposite.

A football player puts his hands up to his ears and signals to the crowd
Messi took no prisoners during the 2022 World Cup.(Gertty Images: Patrick Smith/FIFA)

As the best player at perhaps the best club side the world has seen in Barcelona, he racked up goals, assists, trophies and personal plaudits.

To list his most astonishing statistics, he has nearly 800 career goals, 41 trophies and an unmatched seven Ballon d’Ors.

A younger Lionel Messi in Barcelona colours.
Messi soon established himself as the best player in a brilliant Barcelona side.(Lluis Gene: AFP)

And it was the way he did it as well.

For a player who has never shown excessive flair, he has been irresistible to watch.

Never once in his career has he performed an unnecessary step-over or backheel, yet he is an endless highlights reel of dazzling dribbles, sumptuous passes and ridiculous goals.

Despite being unrelentingly effective, he’s never been dull to watch. Quite the opposite of a robotic winning machine, he’s the player most likely to make you gasp in disbelief, or laugh out loud.

While Maradona was often likened to a god, and Pelé to a king, Messi sometimes makes us think he is an alien, something otherworldly. Like he’s playing a different game to everyone else.

The World Cup a final flourish

Argentina's Lionel Messi runs away from goal with his arms spread wide as the ball lies in the net.
Messi has been at his very best during the tournament.(AP: Thanassis Stavrakis)

There is a strong case that he didn’t need to win the World Cup to be regarded as the greatest. International football is incredibly fickle.

What if France had won the shootout instead?

What if Pelé had been born in Estonia and never won a trophy with his national side? Would that make him any less of a player?

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