In soccer, as in any other sport, you have a select few who are regarded as the greatest players of all time. In some sports, there is a universal choice of that player, say like Michael Jordan in basketball and Wayne Gretzky in ice hockey.
In soccer, or football, as the Europeans call it, there is no universal agreement as to who the greatest of all time is, but there are a select few players who get mentioned every time such a list is spoken of. Perhaps none more than Brazilian Pele and Argentinian Diego Maradona, who together may tower a tiny bit over the next select few players like Hungarian Ferenc Puskas, Dutchman Johan Cruyff and German Franz Beckenbauer.
But these years we may be seeing a player who will eventually stand alone as the greatest of all time. I am not talking about Christiano Ronaldo, as good as he is. He is one of the most complete players ever to play the game and scores a top ranking in most imaginable categories. He heads well, he’s incredibly fast, he kicks well with both legs and amazingly with his right foot. He can score from positions most players can only dream of.
Yet, as good as he is, he is second to the true genius of this football generation, Argentinian Lionel Messi. Tonight, he scored his 51st and 52nd goals this season, a number so ridiculously high that it is unheard of in the modern game.
And not only in the modern game—he’s beaten Puskas’ record for goals in one season in Spain, too.
The thing with Messi, however, is not only the number of goals he scores, but the way he scores them. The second goal in tonight’s match was pure genius. He alone took the entire Real Madrid side apart and five Real players were not enough to stop him. If you haven’t watched it yet, go to YouTube and do so.
The goal was reminiscent of Diego Maradona’s 1986 goal in the World Cup against England. And it wasn’t the first time Messi had made something similar to his older countryman.
For years, Messi has been heralded as the new Maradona and there is no doubt that the two of them possess many of the same qualities.
As of now, Maradona stands for me as the greatest of all time, even ahead of Pele. Why? Because he was the artist, whereas Pele was the athlete. It is sort of the same with Messi and Ronaldo these days. Ronaldo is taller, stronger, kicks the ball harder, he’s probably as fast and in general a more complete player than Messi, who mainly uses his left leg for everything he does.
But what a left leg!
The test for Messi in the years to come is to keep his level at this absurd standard, season after season.
Pele did it, Maradona didn’t.
Apart from that? Well, it would not hurt Messi’s legacy if he could lead his country to triumph at the World Cup. It is expected of every great player and if he is to be measured with and perhaps over Maradona and Pele, many will argue that he needs to do that, too.
The chance for that will not come about for another three years. Until then, the Champions League and the Spanish La Liga provide plenty of opportunities for Messi to shine and for us to enjoy this rare genius.