Lionel Messi is the name on every football fan’s lips after his dreadful start to the 2018 World Cup.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time, was anonymous in Argentina’s 3-0 defeat against Croatia on Wednesday night.
This performance came five days after he missed a penalty against Iceland, who held Argentina to a 1-1 draw in Moscow.
To make matters worse for Messi, his long-term rival Cristiano Ronaldo has been the star of the World Cup so far.
The Real Madrid icon has already scored four goals this tournament and will be intent on adding to his tally when Portugal face Iran next Monday night. He could have the Golden Boot wrapped up by full-time.
If Ronaldo continues to shine, his odds of winning a record-breaking sixth Ballon d’Or award later this year will shorten even further. He’s already the overwhelming favourite to seal the prestigious individual accolade.
Messi was 4-1 up in terms of Ballon d’Or awards in 2012. Ronaldo, who turns 34 next February, now looks set to surpass the South American and further bolster his reputation - at least in the eyes of some - as the best player of his generation.
Martin O'Neill drops a truth bomb on Messi
However, there are other football fans who firmly believe that Messi is still the best player in the world and has simply been let down by his Argentina teammates and coach Jorge Sampaoli this summer.
Certainly, this is not a vintage Argentina side - far from it. The two-time world champions lack quality in midfield and are woeful at the back, as was evident against Croatia.
One man who watched the game closely is Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, who has dropped a truth bomb on Messi after his latest performance.
“This is the closest I’m going to get to criticising Messi - the best player I’ve ever seen,” O’Neill, speaking on ITV, began. “He has to find space for himself. This idea that players have to find space for him… he knows how to find space, he’s been doing it for years - he’s a fantastic player.
'He played as if he's concerned about his legacy'
“There’s just something about him at this moment that’s just not right, whether it’s the weight of expectation on his shoulders, whether it’s all those things, I really don’t know.
“I’m the first person to say that he doesn’t have to win the World Cup to prove that he’s one of the greatest players that’s ever played the game, but he’s playing at this moment as if that is a concern to him.”
Indeed, Messi’s body language before kick-off suggested he was feeling the pressure. While the national anthems were being played, the 30-year-old had his hands on his head. It almost felt like it would rather have been anywhere else.
Perhaps he knew what was in store for Argentina. Or perhaps O’Neill is right: maybe Messi knew defeat in this match and a poor performance could tarnish his legacy.
Hopefully we’ll see the real Lionel Messi against Nigeria next week, in what could potentially be his last ever World Cup appearance.News Now - Sport News