(CNN) -

In the sight of Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer, the man who would be king awaits his destiny.

Diminutive and unassuming, Lionel Messi's faith in his ability has never been in question -- but a God-like shadow has always haunted him.

If Diego Maradona is a deity to Argentines, then Messi is a prophet.

"He was our water in the desert," national coach Alejandro Sabella said of Messi after his side's World Cup quarterfinal victory over Belgium.

Messi may not be Moses -- the ability to turn a rock into a pool of water is a stretch too far even for the Barcelona star -- but his football powers frequently attract supernatural praise.

After his two goals against Nigeria, opposition coach Stephen Keshi declared that Messi was of a different planet -- specifically Jupiter, although he didn't explain why.

Messi's achievements are well documented -- 381 goals in 466 matches for Barcelona, three European Champions League titles and six Spanish La Liga triumphs only tell half the story.

Four times he has been named world player of the year, while his face is posted on billboards across the world, with sponsors clamoring for his signature.

And yet, back where it all began, he does not receive the same affection as he does in the streets of Catalunya.

"The name of Maradona will always be a heavy burden on Messi's shoulders," says Cristina Perez, one of Argentina's leading sports journalists.

Maradona only ever won a Spanish Cup with Barcelona, before guiding Napoli to two Italian league titles, but it was on the international stage where he truly left his mark -- most notably leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986.

"Maradona's achievements as a footballer were absolutely stunning," Perez told CNN. "He used his gifts and guts to beat them all one by one before winning the World Cup in a glorious performance."

As much as his skill at Mexico '86, Maradona's use of his hand to deflect the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton in Argentina's 2-1 quarterfinal victory is still debated to this day.

Was he a cheat or was this a professional doing anything to create an advantage for his team?

A bit of both, according to Maradona. "A little bit by the Hand of God, another bit by the head of Maradona," is how he described his goal afterwards.

"That is why people forgive him for almost everything and still celebrate even the 'Hand of God' goal as an emblem of cunning and hunger of triumph," says Perez.

Maradona's performances at that tournament still astound to this very day.

The way he ran through the bewildered England defense in Mexico City to score his second goal, just minutes after his first controversial effort, led to it being labeled one of the greatest in football history.

In the semifinal Maradona scored twice against Belgium in a 2-0 win, beating four Belgian defenders to score his second goal.

In the final, he set up Jorge Burruchaga to score the winning goal as Argentina claimed a 3-2 victory over West Germany.

His performances secured hero status in Argentina and allowed him build up a huge amount of goodwill which would be sorely tested later when he was banned for drugs at the 1994 World Cup.

Maradona, was a man of the people, a boy who had grown up playing football on the streets of Buenos Aires, fighting each and every day to make his way in the world.

He had something about him that people could relate to -- something Messi, for all of his qualities, did not possess.

"Leo doesn't have the charisma or the eccentric side which helped build Maradona's gifts as a player," says Perez.

"He had a provocative and flamboyant personality -- he's still known as God.

"But nobody can live on the past and the future depends on Messi's talents, otherwise there will be nothing more but nostalgia."

Messi and Maradona could scarcely be more opposite in character and lifestyle.

In the lead-up to the triumphant World Cup triumph in 1986, Maradona was in a daze.

A public row over an illegitimate child with his mistress threatened to ruin the nation's hopes, while throughout his career he was linked with the Camorra -- the Neopolitan mafia -- and, having suffered defeat in the 1990 World Cup final against Germany, was then banned for drug taking at the 1994 tournament in the U.S.

But in 1986 he single-handedly carried an Argentine nation, still recovering from the impact of the Falklands War, onwards to victory. It was the pinnacle of his international career which spanned 91 games and 34 goals.

Messi is more of a private and retiring type -- while he is not shy in coming forward with the ball at his feet, he does not command the same attention within Argentina that Maradona enjoyed.

Much of that has to do with Messi's upbringing. While Maradona grew up and made his name in Argentina, Messi moved to Barcelona at the age of 13.

He is quite open about the decision to uproot from his hometown of Rosario in Santa Fe and move halfway across the world.

"When I was 11 years old they discovered that I had a growth hormone deficiency and I had to start a treatment to help me to grow. Every night I had to stick a needle into my legs, night after night after night, every day of the week, and this over a period of three years," he said in the book "Messi," by Guillem Balague.

"I was so small, they said that when I went onto the pitch, or when I went to school, I was always the smallest of all. It was like this until I finished the treatment and I then started to grow properly."

And grow he did -- not just in height but in stature too.

Messi was the focal point of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona revolution and the emergence of tiki-taka football which dominated Spanish and European football.

Yet as his stock at Barcelona rose with each passing game, those back in Argentina remained skeptical.

The accusation was that Messi was not one of them. This was a player who had abandoned his homeland before he had managed to form any kind of Argentine identity -- he was Catalan.

"There are still some people -- too many people in my opinion, because there shouldn't be any at all -- who aren't totally convinced by him," Argentine football expert Sam Kelly told CNN.