He may only be 23, but another sensational performance from Lionel Messi in the Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United has led some pundits to go as far as saying he is the best player ever.
Having scored 100 goals in his last two seasons at the Nou Camp, Messi’s pace, skill, finishing and dribbling make him a truly unplayable opponent. Standing at just 5 feet and 7 inches tall, Messi has an incredible ability to weave past defenders as if they weren’t there and is able to withstand challenge after challenge despite his height and weight.
His achievements with Barcelona are remarkable. The team labelled as one of the greatest of all time have won five La Liga titles since Messi has joined the club in just seven seasons. He has already won three Champions League titles, surely the world’s most prestigious club competition, as well as a Copa del Rey and FIFA Club World Cup in 2009.
Perhaps compared to another all-time great, Pele, who won 10 league titles at Santos, Messi’s league titles are no match for the Brazilian forward. However, he still has plenty of years left in him and there is an argument to suggest that the standard of La Liga now is much higher than the Campeonato Paulista when Pele played.
Messi’s three Champions League wins already better the two Copa Libertadores victories that Pele won—the South American equivalent of Europe's top club prize. Maradona, another of the world’s greatest ever players, wasn’t nearly as successful in terms of club achievements; in his six-club career, he won four league titles with Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli (twice), but never won a European Cup or Copa Libertadores.
It is internationally that Messi is outdone by his two great rivals—for the time being, anyway. Pele won an astonishing three World Cups during his career, whilst Maradona won once in 1986 and was a runner-up in 1990. It was in 1986 that Maradona made his name as one of the best players ever after guiding his team to tournament victory, scoring one of the greatest goals of all time against England in the quarter-finals.
Although Messi has won an Olympic Gold Medal and an Under-20 World Cup with Argentina, he is yet to succeed on the world’s biggest stage; his country was thrashed 4-0 by Germany in the quarter-finals in South Africa last year.
It is difficult to compare players over different generations as the standard of competitions has changed over-time, however, Messi’s remarkable goal-scoring record and achievements with Barcelona over the last few seasons suggest that he is well on his way to becoming at least one of, if not the greatest player of all time.
Pele, among others, has a fantastic record at both club and country level so I believe that for Messi to be considered as the greatest ever, he must win the World Cup with Argentina at least once in his career. Could 2014 be the year?
Let's not forget that Messi is only 23 years of age and his superb achievements so far can only be improved in years to come.