Lionel Messi is 90 minutes away from being crowned as the greatest footballer of all time.
The Argentine already has won the Ballon d'Or four times. He's led the Champions League in scoring as many times, while becoming Barcelona's all-time leading scorer by the age of 24. His trophy case also has six La Liga winners medals, three Copa del Rey medals and three Champions League medals.
The only thing missing from Messi's absurd collection, and his claim as the best to ever play the sport, is the World Cup. Long chastised for underperforming in an Argentina shirt while starring in a Barcelona shirt, Messi has changed the narrative and has been phenomenal in this tournament. The World Cup is the holy grail of football and with it, Messi can be the holy grail of footballers.
But nobody will think back on Messi's career and think of his trophy case. They won't think of his winners' medals or Ballon d'Ors. Those are markers and fodder for discussions.
Messi has already been crowned the best of his generation, and it's not for his silverware. Messi's legend lives in being the centerpiece for the best club team of his era. It lives on YouTube. It lives in the way teams' tactics revolved around stopping him. It lives in the countless matches he has singlehandedly won. It lives in the stunned silence that accompanies his every play.
Messi's story has become the world's modern day fairytale. The diminutive child starlet was one of the best youngsters to ever come out of Rosario, Argentina. He dazzled on-lookers and drew the attention of every major club in the country, but his required hormone therapy and no team was willing to pay for it. That's when Barcelona came in and offered to cover the 11-year-old's medical costs, with the agreement signed on a cocktail napkin
That napkin may as well be the defining piece of paper of this 21st century football.
Messi has emerged as the face of football. He stars in every commercial, is on every commercial and has penetrated popular culture. Even in countries where the sport isn't an institution, he is. Everyone from little children to the elderly hold him up at the standard, not just in football, but in sport.
The person who coined the term "The Beautiful Game" might as well have done so with Messi in mind. He is balletic, dancing on the ball and through defenders. He contorts his small body through spaces between defenders, making room where there is none. He goes around defenders and past them, leaving them in his wake, and that is only the defenders who are foolish enough to stand in his way. Others just watch, captivated by his brilliance and look more likely to ask him for an autograph than to tackle him.
Cristiano Ronaldo is going to go down as one of the best players ever and there is no doubt who the best player in the world is. Messi stands head and shoulders above him, and maybe nothing makes Messi's case better than the absence of that discussion.
By any measure, Messi isn't just the best player of his generation, but the best ever. He scores against the toughest of competition, stars for the best teams and does what, until he came around, was impossible. The Argentine's resume is already superior to any before him and is so entrancing that the eye test isn't even applicable to him.
World Cup final
World Cup final
All that is left, theoretically, is to put an entire country on his back and drag them to the top of the world against a team that, unequivocally, is significantly better than his. Their survival so far is already almost entirely due to him and yet we ask him for more, because we think he can give more. He is that spectacular that asking him to do something that flies in the face of football -- that the team is superior to the individual -- isn't ridiculous, he makes us believe it is possible.
So Messi can win the World Cup and become the greatest player to ever play the game. He can hold the sport's most beloved and important trophy over his head, giving the world another moment that they will never forget. But at this point we are just counting moments. We are counting memories of greatness because we already know the truth.
Lionel Messi is already the greatest player to step foot on a pitch. All we are watching for is to see him take his crown and sit on his throne.