The World Cup comes only once every four years. While that may be an obvious statement, its importance cannot be understated.
New careers can be born and die in a matter of moments it seems, let alone four years. For many players, being in the best form of their life and making it on their country’s national team at just the right time is a dream come true and a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Not every player can be a Wayne Rooney or a Lionel Messi, both of whom played their first professional games in either the English Premier League or La Liga at the age of 16. Rooney has been the face of England for nearly half of his life, while Messi may go down as the greatest player ever due to his play in Spain as well as for his home nation Argentina.
When you’re talking about world football, though, the grand prize will always be the World Cup. It is the most valuable, sought after trophy in the world, and very few people and nations are ever lucky enough to call it theirs.
For some perspective on the significance of what is going to take place this summer, let’s take a look at Messi for a second.
His legacy is clearly a legendary one in the making. He’s won the FIFA Ballon d’Or four times. He broke the Barcelona club record for career goals at the age of 24. He scored 91 goals in 2012 alone and scored in a record-breaking 17 consecutive league matches in 2013.
He’s only 26 and it seems like he’s already done it all – but he hasn’t. Messi made his World Cup debut at the age of 18 and since then he has scored just one goal in eight appearances, never making it past the quarter-finals.
At the next World Cup four years from now, Messi will be 30 years old – we might be seeing him slow down a bit by that time. That means that right now, in the midst of all these broken records and accolades, this June and July is going to have to be the shining moment of his career.
But how many other people need this to be their shining moment?
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored two goals in two World Cups and has recently moved into position as the best player in the world by winning the latest FIFA Ballon d’Or. Four years from now, he will be 33, meaning this summer will likely be the best chance he has left to make it on the biggest stage.
Rooney has never scored once in the World Cup.
Players who want to go down as the greatest in history have to do it at the highest level and in the biggest moments. That is why we still talk about players like Pelé, who led Brazil to three World Cup Final victories, and Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in style. His “goal of the century” against England in the 1986 World Cup will be remembered forever.
The reason the trophy is so valuable is because at the end of the day, only one of these great players will be able to put it on their résumé. Battles are going to be fought, chances are going to be few, and only those lucky enough to capitalize at the right times are going to advance.
The funny thing about these World Cup legacies is that they so often elude the best players and end up going to the best teams instead.
Spain won in 2010, and there was no question that they were the most superior team in the world. The thing is, they did it without any one particular superstar, as did Italy in 2006.
If there’s one thing a player does not want his legacy to be, it’s coming so close to glory and letting it slip away. Just ask Zinedine Zidane.
The legendary French maestro had made a career of dazzling footwork and brilliant goals. He was a part of the World Cup winning French national team in 1998 and he won the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player in the 2006 World Cup.
Despite this, when you hear the name “Zidane” the mind immediately associates it with one word: headbutt. Zidane’s headbutt on an Italian player in the 2006 World Cup Final had him sent off when his team needed him most. It is going to be the defining image of his career for the rest of his life, because it happened on the biggest stage in the biggest moment.
So, what does Brazil have in store for us? One thing we do know is that by the end of July, 31 nations will be terribly sad while only one will be deliriously happy.
Will it be Messi, Ronaldo, or Rooney that earns eternal glory? A team effort from Spain or Germany? Or will it be some new young superstar that has yet to emerge?
Radamel Falcao recently showed us just how easily a World Cup legacy can be ruined. Playing the greatest football of his life, and after earning the status of a superstar striker, Falcao’s ACL tear earlier this year devastated a Colombian national team that had extremely high hopes of making a run for the final.
Falcao nearly had his moment, and a single bad stroke of misfortune may have taken away the only chance he’ll ever get to define his career in a World Cup.
As always, we’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out. Sports are always unpredictable, but in a game where scoring once makes all the difference in the world, it’s going to be quite a journey for any player trying to solidify himself in the World Cup history books.
It’s time to shine, boys.