It is a subjective debate that has spanned generations and polarised the beautiful game but when everything is said and done, it is hard to argue against the case that Lionel Messi is now the greatest player that ever lived after he inspired Argentina to a third Fifa World Cup.
Perspective is important when discussing who the greatest footballer of all time is. I did not watch the legendary career of Pele, who inspired Brazil to World Cup triumphs in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
But I have followed his career extensively, marvelled at his longevity and achievements and how he elevated Brazilian football to the lofty heights the Samba Boys enjoy today.
The case for Pele, one of three legitimate names – the others are Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi - to the mythical crown of the Greatest of all Time, is through no fault of his harmed by having shone in an era where television had not become the behemoth it is today.
Maradona’s footage, for instance, will always look better than Pele’s. And Messi’s footage will forever make him look better than Maradona. The accomplishments of Pele and Maradona, two no 10s who single-handedly lifted their eras and won the World Cup almost on their own, have been well documented.
Their careers are chiselled in stone. They have genuine claims to the throne. Of that there is no doubt. But after following the career of Messi for the better part of the last 18 years, the time has now arrived to crown him as the best ever to lace his boots.
Before Sunday’s final, the Argentina magician was already the greatest of all time. What the World Cup victory did was to validate his claims. Messi ticks just about each and every requirement to be labelled the GOAT.
He has excelled at the top for two decades, won everything there is for club and country and has played the game in a style that has endeared him to the billions that follow the beautiful game.
Messi is the complete footballer there is. He has scored goals more than out-and-out strikers, created goals more than playmakers and is arguably among the best passers of the ball to play the game.
Sometimes statistics are deceptive. But not in the case of Messi. He is the all-time goal scorer in the history of FC Barcelona, La Liga and Argentina.
He also holds the record appearances at the Fifa World Cup and in Qatar became the first man to score in every game of the knockout stage of the 92-year-old competition.
To watch Messi play is to enjoy art in motion. His feints and dummies have twisted every defender he has come against, and he does so with a brain that would make Gary Kasparov proud.
Messi sees moves and openings quicker and faster than anyone in the history of the game, an attribute that has allowed him to affect the game in spurts. He is 35 and approaching the end of his career.
The reason Argentina was the favourite of most neutrals in Qatar was just one person, Messi. In the Media Tribune where we sat for Sunday’s classic final against France, all journalists on my row were cheering for Argentina.