Lionel Messi would trade all his Barcelona success for a World Cup winners’ medal with Argentina to sit alongside the game’s greats, according to compatriot Ossie Ardiles.
“That is how important the World Cup is for him,” said Ardiles, who was in the Argentina team that won the 1978 World Cup at home in Buenos Aires.
Ardiles, speaking to delegates at the Soccerex Asian Forum held by the banks of the Dead Sea, said that while Messi might be regarded by some as the best player the world has seen, a World Cup win is vital for his legacy.
Messi, 26, has claimed 21 club prizes with Barca and has also won the World Youth Cup in 2005 and 2008 Olympics with Argentina. Next month’s World Cup will be his third after being used sparingly as a substitute in 2006 and playing in 2010.
“Right now Messi might be regarded as the greatest player in the whole history of the game but he would give all the medals he has won with Barcelona just to win one World Cup, that is how important it is for him,” said former midfielder Ardiles.
“To be considered alongside the top, top guys like Pele and Diego Maradona and so on, he not only needs to be in the World Cup but to win it.”
Ardiles also said that he regarded Argentina as favourites to win the tournament in neighbouring Brazil, but joked he could not say anything else if he wanted to remain popular back home.
On a more serious note he said that while Brazil clearly had a very good chance, home advantage was a lot less important than it once was.
“It is a fact that no European teams have won the World Cup in South America but after saying that it doesn’t mean it is going to stay like that forever.
“Three or four teams from Europe have a big chance in Brazil, but though Brazil are playing at home, being at home is not a big advantage anymore. Players play all over, things have changed. It is a lot less than it used to be.
“At the beginning of the tournament it can be an advantage but if things don’t go well for a young team like Brazil’s it can be like a boomerang effect. The pressure grows and grows and comes back and can hit you hard. There is so much pressure, it is tremendous.”
Ardiles played at the 1978 and 1982 World Cups and gave a fascinating insight into how he felt about the experience.
“I did not enjoy playing in the World Cup. You are always worried about how you are going to perform, the other team, I did not enjoy it.
“But, of course, when the final whistle went in 1978 and we were champions, you feel happiness, ecstasy, pure joy, and its beautiful and a unique moment in your life – and that feeling lasted for a long time.
“I enjoyed it after the World Cup but not while I was playing in it.”
Asked if wives and girlfriends were around the Argentine camp when they won in 1978, Ardiles replied: “It’s a very bad idea having wives and girlfriends around.
“Some players want to have the wife and the girlfriend next door. It’s a bad idea. In 1978 we didn’t see our wives for months, but we survived and won. In 1982 we had the wives and we were terrible.”