Who you rate the as best player of all time often depends on how highly you value the importance of international football. When hitting his best form, Lionel Messi is often compared to players like Pele and Maradona, who are considered the best ever. However a criticism that is often levelled at Messi is that, unlike Pele and Maradona, he has never truly shone for Argentina, and perhaps is too reliant on the superlative midfield behind him at Barcelona.
It's ridiculous to say that Messi is only great because Xavi and Iniesta are behind him, the problem has more often been that Argentina have failed to set up in a system to best complement his immense talent. When they were humiliated by Germany in the World Cup in 2010, it wasn't because Messi wasn't producing his Barcelona form, it was because of the way Diego Maradona structured his side.
Recently Messi has been playing in an ultra-attacking front four with Higuain, Aguero and Angel Di Maria. This formation seems to be extracting his best form for his country. Whilst he has been no slouch at any point in his international career, he has picked up 12 of his 31 goals for Argentina in the eight games in 2012, including a memorable hat-trick against Brazil.
The prospect of the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 must be a powerful motivation for Argentina, and Messi in particular will know it gives the best chance he may have to join football's immortals. If he can guide his side to the trophy in the home of their greatest rivals his place in history will be secure.
The Argentine fans worry that Messi's heart is in Barcelona, with the forward having moved there at a young age when he struggled to find sponsors for his medical treatment in his homeland, and he fails to reproduce to his club form as a result. Messi has constantly denied this, but the surest way to convince the doubters is on the pitch, and this year he has certainly gone about that in the best possible manner.
image: © jamesmooreno1