Is Lionel Messi the Best Player in History?

Anurag BhattCorrespondent IJune 29, 2009

ROME - MAY 27:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona lifts the trophy as he and his team mates celebrates winning the UEFA Champions League Final match between Barcelona and Manchester United at the Stadio Olimpico on May 27, 2009 in Rome, Italy. Barcelona won 2-0.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Barcelona president Joan Laporta recently stated in a press conference that his team's biggest star, Lionel Messi, is the best player in the history of the beautiful game.

The fact that Laporta has given Messi the cut above greats like Maradona, Pele, Zidane, and Cruyff has irked many. Many have even charged him with disrespect toward the legends.

But, how can they blame him?

What the people criticising Laporta for his remarks keep forgetting is that, at 22, Messi has already achieved far more than any of the above named players did at that young age (barring perhaps Pele, who had won the World Cup with Brazil when he was just 17-years-old). 

He has already won three La Ligas, one Copa del Rey, and one Champions League with Barcelona and an Olympic gold medal with Argentina.

He scored his first professional goal at the age of 17, won his first professional title in the same season, and he was also selected as both the FIFPro and World Soccer Magazine Young Player of the Year for three years running from 2005–2008.

What they also forget is that, at this age, Messi has already taken up the mantle to be the face of the club he represents.

It is an undeniable fact that when a person thinks of FC Barcelona, the first person that comes to mind from the current squad is Messi. 

Which of the above named players have, at such a young age, been the face of their respective clubs?

Which of them has already been indispensable to the team they represent?

And, most importantly, which of them has ever won the treble?

The answer is, of course, none. 

At 22, Diego Maradona was still hopping clubs. He joined Barcelona when he was 23, and never won the Champions League or the La Liga. Two years later, he demanded a transfer to Napoli and there, at 26, Maradona finally came into his own.

Zinedine Zidane scored his first professional goal at the age of 19, which was the age at which Messi scored a hat-trick against Real Madrid. He did not win any trophies until he was 23 when his team, Bordeaux, won the 1995 Intertoto Cup. 

Johan Cruyff won his first Cup and League double with Ajax when he was 20-years-old. At this age, Messi had already won two La Liga titles with Barcelona, and had been part of the team that won the 2006 Champions League.

Pele was (arguably) the closest to Messi in terms of achievements at such a young age. He won his first World Cup trophy with Brazil in 1958 and his second in 1962, at the ages of 17 and 21, respectively.

However, Pele spent his career in the Brazilian League, which (everyone will admit) was never as competitive as the leagues in Europe.

Which brings us back to whether Messi is the greatest player in history. Certainly, if we go by his age, no one can deny that Messi has had the best career of any other football legends. 

But, it would still be very early to say that his career would remain as glittering and lustrous throughout. Anything can put an end to a footballer's career—an injury here, a few poor games there, and good players are often forgotten.

However, it is fair to say that if Messi improves or even maintains the level his game is currently at, he would definitely become unquestionably the best player in history in the not-so-distant future.