Man with the golden boot

Twenty-five-year-old Lionel Andres Messi was not born when another 25-year-old bloke named Diego Armando Maradona made an 83rd-minute pass to Jorge Luis Burruchaga to seal the fate of the resurgent West Germans brought back from the dead by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Voeller. At the 73rd minute, the Germans were two goals down, and Argentina cruising to its second world cup title and its first "clean" one. Maradona had said 1986 would be his world cup, and it all looked set in stone till Rummenigge scored. Then Voeller equalised at the 81st minute, making flesh all talk about German football teams that never gave up. Argentina won, and buried the scandal of 1978. Maradona eclipsed the legend of Mario Kempes and fostered two Argentine footballing generations who would carry him in their boots as a hidden talisman.

The talisman didn't help. These two generations never came to surpass El Pibe de Oro's world cup feat. Argentina's performances since 1994 have never breached the quarter-final barrier, with one inglorious first-round exit that still haunts the Albicelestes. Leo Messi's achievement thus darkens the shadows around him. No footballer has ever won Fifa World Player of the Year (combined since 2010 with France Football's Ballon d'Or as the Fifa Ballon d'Or) four times. Nobody had won the old Ballon d'Or four times. So Messi has broken ranks with Michel Platini (three consecutive Ballon d'Ors) as well as Johan Cruyff and Marco Van Basten (three honours each). The shadows around "Leo" have darkened because Argentine football is near the top only in the Fifa rankings. And fabled Barcelona, Messi's real home, lost La Liga to arch rivals Real Madrid in the last season, after three consecutive titles, and exited the Champions League in the semi-finals. So Messi's record fourth Ballon d'Or is for the very year the law of averages caught up with Barca and the Pep Guardiola era ended.

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