Lionel Messi has done it all at Barcelona – La Liga titles, European Championships, individual awards, goalscoring records.
The 25-year-old moved to the Nou Camp in 2000, leaving Newell’s Old Boys for La Massia as an under-developed kid. Able to pay his medical costs to overcome a growth hormone deficiency, Barca couldn’t have imagined the type of player they’d managed to stumble upon.
A professional debut followed in 2004, and over the next eight years, Messi would score 277 goals in 348 appearances.
Add in international goals in 2012, and Messi currently has 80 total goals this year - five short of Gerd Mueller’s magical record world football record.
With two FIFA Ballon d’Or’s nicely positioned in the trophy cabinet, the obvious question is – what else does Messi have to achieve?
Winning the World Cup is an obvious point. Success on the international stage would silence the small number of doubters who point to Diego Maradona’s crowing glory in 1986 as a moment Messi is yet to match with Argentina.
Indeed, two key points linger when people talk about Messi being the greatest player of all-time. One is his limited success on the international stage, and the other is his current magnetism to La Liga.
Messi is contracted to Barcelona until 2016, and understandably the Spanish giants want to keep him at the club for as long as possible – to the point where Tito Vilanova’s side want to open fresh contract talks.
However, the player himself is happy with the current situation, and is in no rush to sign a new deal.
"I am not worried about my contract, I have repeated that on numerous occasions. My objectives with the club are longstanding; to improve and to try to win everything that we have already won,” he told Marca, according to Goal.com.
‘To try and win everything we’ve already won’ is perhaps the most telling part of the statement. Messi has won it all with Barcelona, and not just once. How many times can you look to continue repeating the same successes before it loses its appeal? How many more trophies will Barca win in the next three years?
There is no doubt that a move away from the club would be a transfer minefield, and at this stage it currently seems a long way off. Few teams could dream of paying the astronomical transfer fee Messi would command, particularly with financial fair play around the corner.
With that in mind, Messi is in complete command of his own future. At Barca, he plays alongside world-class players week in, week out. He competes for trophies every year.
It seems absurd to suggest that this might be a reason to leave, but if Messi does truly want to be considered the greatest player of all-time, then he must at some stage consider the possibility of leaving home.
Cristiano Ronaldo took the step to further his own career in 2003, joining Manchester United before moving to Real Madrid six-years later. He’s now proven himself in England and Spain, winning titles in two of the hardest leagues in the world.
Does this make him a better player than Messi? No, it doesn’t. However, it proves that the Portuguese superstar has the versatility to showcase his very best against different types of opponents and different styles of play.
For that reason, it’s far easier to make a case for Ronaldo being one of the all-time greats.
That’s not to say you can’t make a case for a one-club or one-county man. Pele is the perfect example in every sense. Many pundits still hail the Brazilian as the world’s greatest, whilst others say he spent his entire career in a weak domestic division. La Liga is not a weak division - it's arguably the best in the world. However, the point remains the same.
Messi will, at some stage, have a choice to make. Nobody could blame him for spending his entire career with Barcelona. He’d be the biggest of idols in Catalonia, up and above the likes of Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff.
But, that mythical title of world's greatest player in history is within reach for Messi. Some believe he already is, but for others, he simply can't be that with a career spent entirely in one country and with one team. How reliant is Messi on his incredible supporting cast?
What the magician believes personally will hold the key, and with over three-and-a-half years left on his current contract, he's keeping his cards close to his chest at this stage.
The world will have to wait for a potential Messi move, but I for one hope he decides to test himself in another top league - preferably the Premier League - before it all becomes too late.
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