Lionel Messi has been called many things during a relatively short career, but the latest comparison by Pep Guardiola has got the world of sport talking.
“Every great has a tendency to influence his team, like Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls.”
At just 24, the Argentine playmaker is being compared to a basketball player who defined his profession and is recognised throughout the world as one of sport’s greatest all-time athletes. It seems like a ludicrous comparison.
Jordan was destined for greatness after hitting the winner for North Carolina in the NCAA title game back in 1982. Ironically, he had been deemed too short to play for his High School team years earlier – insert your Messi comparison here.
At professional level, Jordan won six NBA championships, six finals MVP awards, and five season MVP awards. He also led the league in scoring ten times, and was named in the all-star team a staggering 14 times. He also won two Olympic Gold Medals with the USA Dream Team.
But it’s perhaps not these accolades that made ‘His Royal Airness’ such a sporting icon. An ability to constantly deliver in the clutch – at the crucial moment of some of the most important games – was how Jordan made his name.
That’s not to say Messi hasn’t done that in his career, helping Barcelona to three consecutive La Liga titles and two European Cups.
There is no doubt that he’s on the path to greatness, with many pundits within the game already heralding the diminutive attacking midfielder as better than Diego Maradona and Pele. With over a decade left in the game, the potential is massive.
But that’s what we’re talking about at the moment – potential status as football's greatest.
I’m not saying that Messi isn't going to be a legend. If he ended his career tomorrow, we’d still talk about him as one of the greatest players ever, if not the greatest player. His goalscoring record at Barca is phenomenal, and will almost certainly never be beaten.
But, it’s only right to wait until the later stages of his career to consider these accolades.
To receive global recognition though, the player also needs to produce his brilliance on the international stage. The harshest critic of Messi will argue that, until he wins the World Cup with Argentina, he can’t be judged at the very highest echelons of football.
Whilst Jordan’s task was much easier in terms of winning the Gold in 1984 and 1992, it helped increase the 49-year-old’s standing across other continents away from North America. People in Asia, Europe and anywhere in the world know the name Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls No.23.
Messi already has his following in Europe and South America, but making strides into Asia ala David Beckham, and then potentially generating superstar status in North America much like the England international has since achieved with the LA Galaxy, could be the key to Messi taking Jordan’s crown as one of sport’s all-time greats.
But perhaps we’re getting carried away with Guardiola’s initial comments, which simply stressed that Messi has the ability to bring the very best out of other players in his team.
As Jordan managed with the likes of Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen, Messi is able to operate at a high level thanks to the qualities of his teammates. Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas all seem that little bit more untouchable when playing alongside the little magician.
That’s a special quality that you can’t deny, and both of these athletes are in that category.
But, it’s our insatiable desire to try and compare different sportsmen and women, which has led us to such a debate, and Guardiola must have known that his comments would have led to such comparisons.
Think Muhammed Ali, Usain Bolt, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods and Donald Bradman – professional athletes regarded as the all-time greats in their field. Michael Jordan is in the list, and for many, so is Lionel Messi.
The real debate begins when you try to rank these fantastic individuals. And, for now, Messi is still behind ‘Mike’ when it comes to their legendary standing.