Argentina's Lionel Messi walks up the tribune to collect the second place trophy after the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014.
Lionel Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for World Cup MVP. Did he deserve it? Maybe not, but he's still an all-time great, and don't you forget it.
Messi scored four goals in the 2014 World Cup, but none in the knockout stage. Thomas Müller, meanwhile, scored five goals for Germany en route to the World Cup title. James Rodriguez was transcendent and revelatory in crashing the global soccer scene while taking the Golden Boot award for most goals, with six.
But Messi carried more weight and pressure during this World Cup than anyone other than theBrazilian national team. He may not have been the most deserving Golden Ball candidate, but he was in the conversation.
Still, look at the GIF above. Look how sad he looks accepting the Golden Ball just after Argentina's last-minute loss to Germany in the World Cup final. That's not a happy man.
We know how this narrative plays out. We see it happen time and time again — perhaps the best recent analogy is LeBron James, who is so mercilessly scrutinized by media and fans alike for anything his team fails to achieve or he does in a perceived-as-graceless manner.
Messi's talent, his heart, his moment-ness, his legacy will be dissected ad nauseam in the coming days. Some will come to his defense. Some will tear him apart as little but the product of an FC Barcelona dynasty.
But let's get one thing straight here: Lionel Messi is an all-time soccer great. He has been for years, and he always will be. Sure, the World Cup trophy would have cemented his "legacy" in the 2014 hot-takes ecosystem — and for good reason. But he didn't need it to prove his worth.
Messi is still a transcendent player to be appreciated and admired as a magician and gift to soccer fans the world over.
We're lucky to get to watch him play this game. Even if his face while accepting the Golden Ball carries all of the sadness of Argentina's disappointed fans.