FC Barcelona: Where Does Lionel Messi Rank Among the Best of All Time?

Matthew JamesContributor IIIMarch 27, 2012

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 07: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona scores his sides opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Bayern 04 Leverkusen at the Camp Nou stadium on March 7, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

As Lionel Messi continues to stun the footballing world with his record-breaking career, an old debate has reemerged over who is the greatest player of all time.  Undoubtedly, Messi has cemented his name in the sport’s history, but is he the best ever?  And if he isn’t, who is?

Pelé is perhaps the most serious contender for the title.  His illustrious career was highlighted by winning three World Cups and scoring 1,283 goals; furthermore, he displayed prolific abilities that were previously unprecedented. 

Because of the Brazilian’s contributions to the sport, many consider him the best player of the 20th century.

When inquired about Messi’s significance, Pelé responded, “When Messi's scored 1,283 goals like me, when he's won three World Cups, we'll talk about it.”

Diego Maradona is Pelé’s greatest rival in the debate over the greatest footballer.  Rarely is one name mentioned without the other.  The left-footed forward put on a demonstration of brilliant talent whenever he stepped onto the pitch.  Defenders were perpetually flustered as Maradona used his flair and quick feet to scamper towards the goal. 

In the 1986 World Cup, Maradona scored two of the most legendary goals of all time.  First was the “Hand of God” where Maradona illegally punched the ball past the English keeper. 

The second, dubbed the “Goal of the Century,” came a few minutes later when he deftly dribbled 60 meters and evaded six defenders to bury the ball in the net. 

Maradona himself proclaimed Messi as his successor.  In fact, both Argentines possess similar traits including their short stature, dominate foot, and style of play.  Nevertheless, Maradona has the distinction of winning a World Cup, whereas Messi is lacking.

Other players that have been included in the debate are Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Johan Cruyff, and George Best.

Of this group, Ronaldo and Johan Cruyff share the best claim.  Ronaldo holds the record for the most World Cup competition goals.  Additionally, the Brazilian won the World Cup on two occasions.

Johan Cruyff never won the world’s most prestigious trophy, but he is considered the best European player of all time.  He is also credited with popularizing the philosophy of ‘Total Football’ in the sport.

One thing is for sure.  Until Lionel Messi victoriously raises the World Cup trophy over his head, he will never be able to achieve Pelé or Maradona’s status.  Although he has won the FIFA Player of the Year three times and is on pace to do it again, he must win the World Cup to even be considered the greatest.