The popularity of the No. 10 in soccer has been credited to Pele, who wore it while leading Brazil to three World Cup titles from 1958-1970. The pressure associated with wearing No. 10 could have a negative affect any player. But Lionel Messi is not just any player.
According to Forbes, Messi made $65 million in salary and endorsements in the lpast 12 months. Messi has won three of the last four Ballon D’Or trophies, awarded to the top player in the world on a yearly basis.
Now Messi has led Argentina into the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Messi has scored four goals and tallied one assist, putting him in contention for the Golden Ball Award, given to the top player of the tournament.
The last time an Argentinian player won the Golden Ball, was in 1986 when Diego Maradona led his team to the World Cup title.
During his entire career, Messi has been compared to Maradona -- who also wore No. 10. Both are shorter in stature but large in foot talent. Both play with the ball at their feet, able to create an opportunity with just an inch of space opening between the defenders.
When Messi and Maradona paired up in 2010 as player and coach, the prospects for Argentina seemed as divine as Maradona's hand. The results fell far short of the expectations. Argentina was eliminated in the quarterfinals at the hands of Germany 4-0. Messi did not score during the 2010 World Cup. Maradona did not return to the team after the 2010 World Cup.
Where Messi and Maradona are different is off the field. Lionel Messi is not quiet off the field, but he has generated different kinds of headlines than Maradona. Messi has been seen with his son, Thiago, and making an appearance as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. Messi is also on video game covers and advertisements for Turkish Airlines and Gillette. Messi has been on Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world list twice.
Maradona has had off-field incidents during and after his playing career. Maradona failed multiple drug tests as a player. Maradona suffered a heart attack caused by cocaine use in 2004. Maradona needed gastric bypass surgery in 2005 to get his weight under control. It was not until 2007 the Maradona announced he had quit drinking and stopped using drugs.
"I've always had my family really close by, and my friends," Messi told CNN. "The truth is that I've never been one to go out much, to go out partying. I've never had those problems because, yeah, my family has always helped me out with that."
Argentina plays Belgium on Saturday. Maradona scored both goals in 1986 when Argentina beat Belgium 2-0 in the semifinals. Barring injury, it would give Messi 91 caps for the national team, tied with Diego Maradona for sixth most in Argentina history.
"It's very special for me to wear the shirt of the national team," b>Messi told CNN. "I think it's a beautiful responsibility to be playing with this shirt, especially with such a football-crazy country watching everything we do. It's something very beautiful."