ZURICH — Lionel Messi must win a World Cup with Argentina before he can be considered a contender as the greatest player of all time, according to Michel Platini.
Platini hailed 24-year-old Barcelona forward as one of the greats after he won his third straight FIFA world player of the year award on Monday.
But the former France star believes Messi must win football's biggest prize in order to rival Pele and Diego Maradona — the men most often mentioned as the greatest of all time.
"Messi will always be great with or without (winning) a World Cup — but the World Cup, it's something special," Platini told reporters. "The World Cup will stay in the mind of the people."
Messi's record of relative failure at international level is an unsolved mystery.
Argentina has experienced a series of quarterfinal exits at the World Cup and Copa America during Messi's time, and he has not scored for the Albiceleste at either tournament over the past two years.
Platini compared Messi with Maradona, another Argentine icon who carried his national team by sheer force of will and a touch of genius to win the 1986 World Cup.
"When you see Maradona, you see what he has done in '86," said Platini, whose France team lost in the semifinals to West Germany that year in Mexico.
Platini suggested that Maradona is more often remembered for his achievements at World Cups than his similarly impressive achievements at Napoli, where he led the team to its only two Serie A titles.
"At the World Cup he was very strong. To score in a World Cup is an important matter," said Platini, who scored at each major tournament he played from 1978-86. He also was named European Footballer of the Year three times in the spell.
Messi was just 19 when making his World Cup debut in 2006 in Germany.
He came off the bench to score his first — and only — World Cup goal in a 6-0 rout of Serbia and Montenegro in a group-stage match.
However, coach Jose Pekerman left Messi unused as his team drew 1-1 with the host nation and lost a penalty shootout.
In South Africa four years later, Messi was the unquestioned star of a team coached by Maradona with more instinct than method.
Messi played well but goals eluded him and Argentina was ousted again, 4-0, by a much classier German team.
Platini says Messi's ability to score is proven, with more than 200 goals already for Barcelona.
"He's a pearl. He's a scorer, first of all. He looks very quiet but he is a killer," Platini praised. "He is the best player but he needs to have the best team. At Barcelona, he has the best team. I hope he has the best team with Argentina.
"I know he wants to win the World Cup."