As young football fans growing up in the 60s all we heard of was Pele. The genius from Brazil who could do mesmeric things with the ball was already regarded as the GOAT (greatest of all time). He was the most prominent member of the national team that won back to back World Cup titles in 1958 and 1962.

Sure they had been outstanding players in the past particularly in the decade just before which produced the likes of Alfredo di Stefano of Argentina and Ferenc Puskas of Hungary. But Pele's legendary skills raised him to an exalted status which was not dented following Brazil's disastrous campaign in the 1966 World Cup. In any case a third World Cup triumph in 1970 strengthened his case as a footballer without parallel in the game's long history.

Pele retained his magic through the 70s even if his World Cup career was over and though there were several outstanding players over the next decade no one came anywhere near to challenging his unique stature until Diego Maradona appeared on the scene in the 80s. He performed great deeds for Argentina and his peak came in 1986 when he led his country to a famous World Cup triumph.

His sublime footballing skills had the experts comparing him with Pele and the general view was that he came the closest to emulating the legendary Brazilian in the art and craft of the beautiful game. FIFA, the sport's governing body certainly thought so for in 2000 they instituted a FIFA Player of the Century award to decide the greatest football player of the 20th Century and perhaps not unexpectedly Pele and Maradona were joint winners.

Throughout the first two decades of the new millennium these two remained on the pedestal and it did not seem that there would be a third to match them. Now however in Lionel Messi there appears a worthy contender to join his two illustrious predecessors as the GOAT. Now there will be three of them jointly at the top and few would argue with that!

If Pele's name is synonymous with Santos and Maradona with Napoli, Messi's name is indissolubly linked with Barcelona. But while their deeds with their clubs is noteworthy it is the international record that ultimately matters.

Messi with his numerous awards thanks to his prolific goal scoring ability and creative playmaking had set numerous records but a World Cup trophy was missing from his CV. He always made it clear that this was his ultimate objective and it was clear that at the age of 35 Qatar 2022 represented his last chance to obtain his greatest prize.

It had taken five attempts and a record 26 World Cup matches but the boy from Rosario, some 300 kilometres north of Buenos Aires finally delivered much to the joy of his team and his legion of fans worldwide. And when he smiled, paused and then hoisted the World Cup high it was a lifetime's dream realised.

For all the accolades, the awards, the riches, titles and silverware, there had been one stain on his career resume and on a magical Sunday night he erased that forever with a performance that was superlative even for Messi. And as tens of thousands of Argentines packed into the stadium jumped and hugged and cried and screamed so too did the Argentine team sobbing freely and mobbing the man who had been their talisman for a generation.

The Argentine side had arrived in Qatar described by some unkindly as "Leo Messi and ten other guys''. A lacklustre defeat at the hands of Saudi Arabia in their first match did little to dispel that notion. Messi had arrived in Qatar with the dreams of a nation on his shoulders once again.

The pressure on him was tremendous. Eight years ago in a World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro Messi was strangely muted, not magical and had seemed weary by the weight of expectation as Argentina lost in the final to Germany.

This time though he wore it lightly, culminating in the apotheosis of an extraordinary career that has seen him voted as the world's best player a record seven times. For Barcelona he has won a club record 35 trophies, including ten La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles and three UEFA Super Cups besides the Copa America trophy last year. Now he has the most coveted prize of all.

Messi is the first player to score in the group stage, round of 16, quarterfinal, semifinal and final in a single edition of the World Cup. He scored his 100th international career goal in extra time in the final. Messi overtook Germany's Lothar Matthaus in most appearances by a player in the World Cup (26).

At Qatar he won the golden ball with seven goals and three assists being the first player to do so twice having earlier won it in 2014. He has now scored two goals in a World Cup final, 13 World Cup goals, 18 goals for Argentina in 2022 and 100 goals for his country in all.

Messi had waited years for this moment. He badly wanted the one trophy missing from his cabinet. He waited, age catching up, pace deserting him, questions swirling around him.

But the desire never left him and whether he retires or not he can now leave the sport that he graced so ethereally and for so long blissfully happy. And yes, there is enough evidence to bracket him with Pele and Maradona right at the very top.