Poet James Eze, a Lionel Messi enthusiasts decries the tyranny of comparisons that follows the lifetime achievements of Leo Messi in football.

Last night, Argentina won the World Cup. Half of the world wanted her to lose. They said it would be justice served since Messi’s eternal rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, had exited the tournament in a cloud of controversy and bitterness. Ronaldo is a tornado on the field and a volcano off it. With 518 million followers on Instagram alone, many fans were heartbroken when he left. And Messi stayed.

The comparison between Messi and Ronaldo is one of the world’s most indulgent whimsies. But it leads to heated arguments that force a wedge between friends sometimes. In reality though, the only meeting point between the two is football. And even so, they see the object differently. One sees it as an instrument of artistic beauty and exquisite romance. The other as a cannonball fired into the skies for uproarious adulation. One sees the football field as a huge canvas on which to engrave magic in sizzling colors with his delicate left foot. The other as a shooting range to pelt with bullets. Their perspectives are divergent, definitive and polarizing on their fans who also see football from different angles.

The world is unwise. And unkind. You don’t compare Pablo Piccasso to Usian Bolt. One leaves a trail of otherworldly beauty, the other defies gravity with bristling athleticism. They offer different fulfilments to our sensibilities. But if I were to choose, I’d pick Picasso. For while Bolt’s magic disappears in a blur, Picasso embroiders his genius in our memory.

And this is why it is unkind to say that Messi is now greater than Ronaldo because he has finally won the World Cup. Anyone who has followed modern football would know that one was always clearly ahead of the other. Not only in terms of silverwares and records shattered but also in terms of overall impact on the sport. Because football is a spider web that requires teamwork to create the sublime patterns that enchant the world, a player whose genius elevates team-work above personal quest for glory is a standout talent. People who compare Ronaldo to Messi see football as a game with an unrealized beauty. For them, football attains its full height only when a goal is scored. That is shortsighted.

Alas, the world loves comparisons. One thing cannot stand alone. Something must stand beside it. That is why Pele cannot be Pele. And Maradona Maradona. It is either or. That is why we are not content with Tupac and Biggie. It is Tupac or Biggie. The tyranny of comparisons is that it strips us of the capacity to appreciate the edge that one gift has over another; the full import of Messi’s epic twists and turns that left Josko Gvardiol at sea or the poetically chiseled pass that carved the Netherlands wide open for Molina’s goal. Folks who compare Messi to other players are too blind to absorb the mystery of magic.

Hopefully, the race with Ronaldo has been wiped away by Messi’s virtuoso performance in Qatar. Never before has the world seen a 35 year-old dominate the World Cup with peerless brilliance and extraordinary determination. But the fight is not over for Messi.

The world loves intrigues, conspiracies and senseless rivalries. Kylian Mbappe had been positioned across the chasm to square up to Messi. Messi has won everything in football. Mbappe has won the World Cup and a few Ligue One titles. Yet to ruin the fun of this World Cup victory for Messi, they talk about Mbappe’s exceptionality. Mbappe that soon disappeared after Russia 2018 and only found himself after Messi had revived him with his magic in PSG. And out of misguided mischief or mindless resentment of genius, Mbappe is being lined up against Messi who holds a record of seven Ballon d’ors, 4 Champions League, 10 Spanish Champions, 8 Spanish Super Cup, 7 Spanish Cup, 2 UEFA Super Cup, 3 FIFA Club World Cup, 1 Olympic Medal, 1 Copa America, 1 Under-20 World Cup and finally a World Cup. Worse still, Messi’s goals are rare art pieces that leave spectators in awe. Mbappe’s goals are muscular. Like the pounding of akpu. Yet we compare them. The cruelty of comparison incites bitterness. This is mkpali!

Messi touches us in different ways. His genius has left some folks reeling in nostalgia. Scared that Messi is about to dislodge a monument they hold sacred, they have all come out to re-affirm their belief in Pele’s invincibility. Pele is still the G.O.A.T, they declare. I can’t speak about Pele since I didn’t follow his career. But I have followed Messi and Ronaldo and now Mbappe. However, I’m keenly aware that Pele is essentially referenced in terms of the number of goals scored. Maradona is even more remembered as a team player than Pele. And football would have died in infancy if its only promise were the gift of goals.

Football is a feast; a feast of creativity, athleticism and teamwork. A football team is an assemblage of intricate talents who are keenly aware that their success is dependent on teamwork. Therefore, any player who combines exceptional personal brilliance with excellent display of team-spirit is an outstanding talent. In other words, it’s not enough for a G.O.A.T to shine, he must have the creativity and the selflessness to bring out the spark in others. His gift must pry open the greatness in others and let it shine. Messi has done this for over two decades for clubs and country. The G.O.AT must give us an extra. It could be a dizzying leg-over or a hair-raising spot-kick or something as deceptively simple as a 35 year-old turning a 20 year-old athletic, Josko Gvardiol inside out enroute to a historic goal. This is where Messi towers above all.

In the end, the world will see many Cristiano Ronaldos. In fact, his clone, Mbappe is already here. But Lionel Messi is the first and the last of his kind. And that is why comparisons are needlessly tyrannical.