Lionel Messi. Those two evocative words are recognized across the world. No doubt one of the greatest players ever, but is he the greatest?
Having grown up watching football only since 1997, the best player I have seen is Messi. His touch, burst of speed, dribbling and lethal finishing is simply breathtaking. Defenses struggle to cope with him. A great example of this would be Messi’s record of 5 goals in a single champions league match against Bayer Leverkusen, a team who finished 5th in the Bundesliga. The Bundesliga is one of the three best leagues in the world.
Leverkusen are clearly not the only team to have struggled with Messi’s majestic play. The statistics speak for themselves. For club alone Messi has scored 308 goals in 372 appearances. The more impressive thing being that in the last two seasons Messi has scored 53 in 55 and, an astonishing 73 in 60. This season the trend looks set to continue with 55 in 43. He keeps getting better and he is only 25.
However despite remarkable statistics, stunning performances and a vast amount of playing honours he is still not considered by many as the greatest player to play football. One argument against Messi being the greatest player in history is that he has a brilliant set of players around him. Barcelona, one of the best teams ever have undoubtedly been a factor in Messi’s success. However, Maradona, Cruyff, Pelé, Di Stefano and more greats also had brilliant players surrounding them. Brilliant players end up at brilliant teams.
Another argument against Messi being the best player football has seen is that he hasn’t replicated his club form for his country. This argument put frankly is false. Under enormous pressure from his homelands’ media and people, Messi has 32 goals in 78 appearances in a national side disrupted by frequent managerial sackings and egos. He even has been accused of being more Spanish than Argentinean due to him moving to Spain from an early age. Despite this his form is improving, one highlight being his brilliant hat-trick in the 4-3 ‘friendly’ victory over Brazil. There is no such thing as a friendly between these two rivals. He also did this in a team of less talented individuals than Barcelona . While people say that he needs to win a world cup to be the great, he still can, with possibly two more world cups left in him. Furthermore Cruyff and Di Stefano never won a world cup.
Messi is also a great sportsman, who is passionate about football but does not resort to cheating, excluding the rare and chillingly controversial mirror of the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against Espanyol in the June 2007 Barcelona derby. Messi faces being marked by at least one player every single match, where they resort to kicking and fouling him whenever he touches the ball. Instead of rolling around and making a fuss he picks himself up and gets on with it, 99% of the time.
The player who is the most touted for the title as the greatest player to live is Pelé. A man who scored over 1000 goals, almost two thirds more than Messi’s current total. However, Pelé scored the majority of his goals against poor defences in the Brazilian league, where most of the teams did not have a defensive coach and he was given the utmost respect. He never made the move to Europe, instead playing on at the New York Cosmos against more poor defences. Messi plays in La Liga, in the top two of the current world football leagues and is only 25. While Pelé scored goals in world cups and is undoubtedly a magnificent player who has not just won one world cup but three, he played in a different era.
That is why it is almost impossible to say which player is the greatest of all time, the eras were vastly different. The era Pelé played in was a slower game, with poor pitches, equipment and less money. There was less glamour in football then and players were less in the public spotlight. The era Messi plays in is almost like a business. The game tempo is fast, high impact and the players are now athletes. The pitches are massively better and the standard of the facilities has massively increased. Despite all this though and heavily influenced by my generation, I believe that Messi is the greatest player to have ever kicked a football. Though different generations have different opinions depending on who their idols were/are.