Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Messi Isn't The Greatest Ever

Lionel Messi registered a record-breaking five goal haul last Wednesday, as a boisterous Barcelona swept aside a baffled Bayern Leverkusen outfit, to march promptly into the Champions League Quarter-Finals.

Barcelona's old No.10
Messi once again exhibited his undeniable quality and complete understanding of the modern game, bringing to the boil the debate that has simmered under the surface since he adopted Barcelona’s number 10 shirt from the majestic Ronaldinho in 2008.

That season saw a 21-year old Messi score 38 goals on his way to claiming La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League trophies and the youngest top scorer in Champions League history picked up the UEFA Club Forward of the Year and UEFA Club Footballer of the Year awards, coming runner-up in the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year.

Having received a staggering 46 accolades since then, netting another 153 times in just 157 appearances for Barcelona, Messi has proven to football spectators worldwide that he is a truly unique talent.

But, is Lionel Messi 'The Greatest Footballer Ever'?

Last May, Wayne Rooney was helpless to prevent the Argentine running rings around his teammates at Wembley, once again crushing his dreams of Champions League success. Despite such a brutal infliction of pain, Rooney found only pure pleasure in observing Messi’s latest masterclass, tweeting “Messi is a joke. For me the best ever.”

Messi makes it look so easy
When talking of all-time greatest footballers the same names inevitably arise such as Pele, Cruyff, Maradonna, De Stefano, Puskas, Beckenbauer, Platini, Eusabio, Francescoli and Best.

Having scored a mind-blowing 1,283 career goals in 1,363 appearances, Pele is considered by many as the number one footballer ever, when forced to choose. The so-called ‘King of Football’, who famously quipped, “I was born for soccer, just as Beethoven was born for music”, has his own views on whether Messi is eligible for the title of ‘Greatest Ever’.

In January Messi scooped the FIFA Ballon D’or award for the third successive year and Pele was present at the ceremony to admit, “I like Messi a lot, he’s a great player. Technically we’re practically at the same level.”

However, the Brazilian legend asserted, “When Messi’s scored 1,283 goals like me, when he’s won three World Cups, we’ll talk about it.” He further clarified, “He’s a great player for Barcelona, but when he plays for Argentina, he doesn’t have the same success.”

Maradonna is an admirer
The 71-year old global football icon displayed his sense of humour, claiming “People always ask me: ‘When is the new Pele going to be born?’ Never.  My father and mother have closed the factory.”

Joking aside, Pele makes a valid point given that his 77 goals in 92 international appearances, including three World Cups and countless international records vastly outweigh Messi’s 22 scores in 67 games, boasting only one tournament victory in the 2008 Olympics.

Messi supporters would argue that at 24 years of age, assuming he remains injury-free, he will have every opportunity to meet and exceed the numerous achievements made by the Brazilian.

This statement holds great truth and it is impossible to construct arguments that successfully derail the assertion of Messi as the ‘Best Player of the Modern Era’.

As a generation we must acknowledge how privileged we are to witness such aristocratic displays of ingenuity on the football field.

We must also recall that our knowledge of Pele’s greatness is formed from vivid recollections passed down by those fortunate enough to have seen him perform or through rare clips of his wizardry, but primarily from reading of his accomplishments statistically.

Still the greatest... for now...
Granted the wealth of modern technology enables us to chronicle Messi’s career in a more comprehensive manner, but when the final whistle blows the bare bones of a legendary striker’s career is exposed through numbers.

Lionel Messi is an exceptionally gifted talent who has the world at his feet, but his sensational career record of 254 goals in 384 games still falls tremendously short of Pele’s, who can rest assured, temporarily, that he remains 'The Greatest Footballer Ever’.

Written by Dom Wallace


  1. Quite a few readers may see this as controversial, but you can't argue with facts...

  2. A good read Dom - posted to Twitter.


    1. Thanks for the support Louis,

      Glad you enjoyed the article - I'll keep them coming!

  3. I know relativism is always a hard argument to make in sports, but I would consider also the levels of defense Pele faced vs. Messi as well as the supporting cast and coaching on the national teams. Granted, Messi should have more goals to show for his 2010 WC campaign, but Argentina flopped as a team. They're a collection of talented individuals but don't mesh like Zidane's French team and Pele's Brazilian.

    1. Yan, this is the classic argument which has plagued such discussion for many years previous and will continue to do so for many years to come.

      Indeed Messi's environment is a much more professional one in terms of competition. He does also have the luxury of much improved equipment and training facilities with which to hone his skills. The weight and quality of the ball that Pele used along with the questionable comfort and suitability of the 'boots' he wore must be taken into account in his favor.

      Also, the one thing that strikes me about this argument is that people seem to think back in Pele's time that the defenders he was playing against were of a village team standard. I can assure you that International players of any era have been a class act in terms of ability.

  4. A few points to make,
    - I agree with Yan that to be as consistent as Messi has been in this era when the opposition he faces are far more athletic is a greater achievement.
    - To contradict this, Maradona played in an average Argentinean team and an average Napoli team and dragged both, single handedly, to countless successes. You could argue that the greatest ever can elevate teams on their own. Again, however, maybe this has something to do with the overall standard and fitness being higher now.
    -Finally, speaking to someone who has had a season ticket at Camp Nou for years, he told me that he thinks Messi's predecessor, Ronaldinho, could do things with the ball that Messi can't. While having a greater technical capacity doesn't make somebody the best player ever, it's an interesting observation from someone who has observed both players at close quarters.

    1. James, Messi's achievements in this era, I believe, make him the best player of our generation and he has the time and potential to gain eligibility for the crown of 'Best Player Ever', but for me it is a little premature.

      Good point about Maradonna and an even more interesting insight on Ronaldinho. My understanding is that his tricky and playful ability to 'wow' the audience (sometimes at the expense of playing the easy/right ball) was at times a more explosive crowd pleaser than Messi. Though one should not discredit Messi for having an inflated importance for getting the job done - after all goals win games.

  5. Pele counyd goals against village teams from when he was a child! That too is a fact!

    1. He was also a child when he won the World Cup - are you going to discredit him with this achievement too?


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