ONE of my longest-standing football arguments is under threat – could it be that Lionel Messi IS the best player I have seen in my lifetime?

Every time the little magician pops up with a goal for Barcelona in the Champions League or La Liga, my mates shower him with praise: “Nobody can do what he does with a football, he’s the greatest ever,” yada, yada, yada.

“But he has never done anything at the World Cup,” I interject with an Oscar Wilde-like bon mot, probably smoking a pipe at a jaunty angle. “Until he does that, he isn’t a touch on Diego Maradona.”

That pipe bit isn’t true. But my theory has always been that until Messi can really turn it on at the business end of a major international tournament when he is not surrounded by artisans like Xavi or Andres Iniesta offering him an endless supply of possession, he cannot lay claim to the title.

Argentina have been bang average in their first two games. Even Angel di Maria, who is also unplayable on his day, has failed to sparkle. And yet the South Americans are already through to the last 16 thanks to one little guy.

Messi produced against Bosnia, produced against Iran, and I think he might carry on producing all the way to the final.

Strictly in the name of research for my column I delved into my loft yesterday to dig out a box of old VHS cassettes.

After losing sight of why I had gone into the loft and watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I then focused on the task at hand and grabbed my battered copy of the official 1986 tournament video, entitled “Hero” in reference to Diego Maradona’s incredible star turn to help win the trophy outright.

Anyone who has watched these FIFA-sanctioned films will know they contain roughly 40 per cent actual football and the rest blurry, sweeping, close-up montages of reactions and celebrations in the crowd.

Couple this with the fact the two-hour 1986 video was narrated by Michael Caine and its soundtrack supplied by Rick Wakeman, and you will understand the torture I have put myself through for this particular column.

It felt like one of those hypnotherapy tapes you play in your sleep intended to introduce you to Prog Rock.

Anyway, the idea was to look back at what Maradona did for Argentina back then and compare it to what Messi is doing right now.

The football in 1986 looked much slower, or at least Terry Fenwick did as he chased the Argentina ace in the quarter-final.

That could have been because of the Mexican heat, it could also have been the FIFA directors dragging every bit of footage out as long as they could.

Forgive the pun but Maradona scored, or had a hand in, 10 of the 14 goals Argentina produced. He was absolutely everywhere.

Yes, there was a whiff of controversy about some of the stuff he did but I still think Messi needs to up his game to reach that kind of impact.