Thierry Henry: Messi’s legacy set, Copa America win or not

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by DAVE MARTINEZ

Argentine fans have a tempestuous relationship with Leonel Messi. That may come as a surprise to some, but it is true. Perhaps it is due to his development in Spain. Or maybe it is because he wasn’t a product of the Argentine Primera. It can also be his low-key approach to soccer – a stark contrast to their flawed idol, Diego Armando Maradona.

Or maybe it’s just trophy envy. After all, Messi has won a whopping 28 titles while with Barcelona, including eight league trophies, four UEFA Championships and three Club World Cup titles.

His trophy count with Argentina? An equally stunning goose egg.

For the proud and nationalistic Argentine people, that represents the dividing line when judging the legacy of the 28-year-old Messi. Does his success at the club level mask his international shortcomings? Can he ever be considered a national hero without winning one for the Albiceleste?

When it comes to the legacy debate, one legend of the game doesn’t believe Messi needs the international accolades to justify his place among the all-time greats.

“There is nothing to justify,” an exasperated Thierry Henry explains. “Listen, the guy, what more can we say about the guy? You have great players that miss not playing in the World Cup, haven’t won a World Cup, never won the Champions League, never won whatever it is. What the guy is doing, what he has done — I don’t understand how people still question the man.”

As Henry says, “legacy never dies” — and he is certainly someone that understands the meaning of the word. He holds seven major titles with Arsenal, including two Premier League championships. Those achievements earned him a lofty place in Gunners history — and he has the bronze statue outside of the Emirates to prove it. He is also a World Cup winner with France and a former teammate of Messi, giving him a unique insight and perspective on the Argentine great.

“I played with him and sometimes I thought ‘is he human?’ Seriously, because I don’t get it,” Henry said. “That is where I put him. I don’t think he is human.”

“The guy in one calendar year scored 96 goals or whatever it was. Some strikers don’t do that their entire career. When he scores four, people ask ‘why didn’t he score five?’ When he scores three, they are like ‘what is wrong?’ If he doesn’t score for three games, it’s ‘is he OK?’

“Yes,” he exclaims. “It is normal! Come on.”

In Henry’s eyes, Messi is not only the greatest player today, but perhaps one of the greatest of all time — and no Copa America trophy or World Cup victory is needed to justify that.

“What he has done isn’t normal,” Henry said. “It would be great if he could win the World Cup or Copa America. That would be amazing. But for me, come on, he is already up there. Way up there, way, way, way up there. For me, he doesn’t need to win the World Cup to be the best.”