After 20 years of fakes and pretenders, Argentina has finally found its new Maradona.
Lionel Messi has already proven that he is a worthy successor to the Albicelestes’ greatest ever footballer, thanks to his astonishing achievements with his club side, Barcelona.
If Messi can emulate Diego Maradona’s 1986 World Cup success and help his country—now coached by Maradona—win the World Cup in South Africa, Argentineans may start looking for the New Messi.
Ahead of Argentina’s opening Group B match against Nigeria on Saturday, June 12, we compare the old and new Maradonas.
Both of Argentina’s finest footballers can trace their roots back to the Adriatic coastline of Southern Europe.
Maradona’s great-grandfather was born on the Dalmatian coast in what is now Croatia.
His mother was named Dalma after her ancestral home and Maradona gave his own daughter the same name.
Messi’s family originates in Ancona, an Italian city on the opposite side of the Adriatic sea from the Dalmatian city of Split.
Both Maradona and Messi have worn the famous scarlet and blue jersey of FC Barcelona.
In 1982 Maradona signed for the club from Boca Juniors for a world record fee of £5m.
However his time at the Camp Nou was hampered by illness, injury and disputes with the board of directors.
Maradona eventually transferred to Italian side Napoli in 1984 for another world record fee.
Messi’s career at Barcelona has been far more successful.
He joined the club at the age of 11 and in 2004 made his first team debut at 16.
Since then, he has become a favorite of the Camp Nou faithful and helped Barcelona to four Spanish titles and two Champions League victories.
Both players have also played briefly for Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys.
Both players have been sent off while playing for their country.
Messi’s dismissal on his international debut was quite sensational.
Appearing as a substitute in a 2005 friendly against Hungary, the 18-year old only spent two minutes on the pitch. Messi was shown the red card after the referee judged that he had head-butted a Hungarian defender who was tugging his shirt.
Maradona’s most famous red card came in the 1982 World Cup.
After making his debut for his country in 1977 at the age of 16, Maradona was omitted from Argentina’s 1978 World Cup winning roster.
The following tournament in Spain was his chance to prove himself, and he scored twice against Hungary to help Argentina qualify for the second round.
But he was sent off in the clash with Brazil for kicking Joao Batista da Silva, and Argentina crashed out of the World Cup.
Both players have scored sensational solo goals, which are remarkable for their similarity.
Maradona’s second goal in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal against England is rightly hailed as one of the greatest World Cup goals of all time.
Picking the ball up near the halfway line, the little Argentine glided past five English defenders before taking the ball around the goalkeeper and slotting it home.
In 2007, Messi scored with a similar effort for Barcelona—albeit in the slightly lesser circumstances of a Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe.
The goal led one Spanish newspaper to label the player as Messidona.
Both players are renowned for their ability to hold onto the ball, which is a result of their low centers of gravity.
Even when surrounded by defenders, Maradona was a master of wriggling his way out of trouble before setting off on a high-speed dribble.
In the increasingly physical modern game, the 5’7” Messi is adept at shielding and protecting the ball from more athletic and strong opponents.
It is their height and build that helps both players make those mesmerizing dribbles.
The short, stocky Maradona was able to turn into space quickly whilst retaining full control of the ball.
The slightly taller Messi sometimes seems to hunch over the ball, helping him keep it close to his feet.
Both players have had a part of their lives dominated by drugs, though in wildly different ways.
The young Messi was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency and had to receive daily injections to treat the condition throughout his teenage years.
In fact, this is one of the reasons why Messi joined Barcelona, as the club was willing to foot the bill for the expensive medication.
Maradona’s drug habit allegedly also started in Barcelona, though was less medicinal and more recreational.
In 2000, it was revealed that the star was addicted to cocaine after he was rushed to a hospital in Uruguay with heart issues.
Maradona also had issues with legal drugs when he was sent home in disgrace from the 1994 World Cup after testing positive for the banned substance ephedrine.
In 1986 Diego Maradona was the inspiration behind Argentina’s triumph at the World Cup in Mexico.
The diminutive Argentine scored five goals at the tournament, including two—one against England in the quarterfinals and one against Belgium in the semis—that rank amongst the best World Cup goals of all time.
Despite being man—marked by West Germany’s Lothar Matthaus in the final, he set up the winning goal in Argentina’s 3-2 win.
Now Maradona is back at the World Cup—this time as a coach—and will be looking to the current team’s superstar, Messi, to inspire his team to glory.
Will South Africa be the place where we see Messi truly become the New Maradona?