Lionel Messi turns 24 in three days time and he is undoubtedly the best player in the world at the moment. Comparisons have been made between him and Diego Maradona who is Argentina's greatest player ever.
In this article I will attempt to make that comparison and decide which player is the better one.
Both players are considerably shorter than normal for professional footballers, and in his early days at Barcelona, Messi had to be given treatment for a growth hormone deficiency.
There were rumours of Maradona receiving a similar treatment in his younger days, but it's impossible to know whether it's true or not. Messi is a diminutive 5'6.5", but Mardona was even shorter at 5'5".
Messi is a magician on the ball and his eye for the goal is second to none. He plays as a winger for Barcelona, but in reality it's more of a free role as he drifts in and out of the game in different positions.
One of the things in his favour is the protection players receive from referees in the modern game, as it has meant he has been relatively injury so far in his career.
With each passing season Messi is scoring more and more goals, and breaking records for his club in the process. Of course he is helped by playing in the best team in the world, and if he has an off day there are plenty of other players ready to step up to the mark.
I've watched Barcelona on plenty of occasions though, and I have yet to see Messi have an off day.
On the international scene Messi has played very well for his country without ever excelling. It can't be easy for him to represent his country in a team which is inferior to his club side, and in which his talents are not always correctly utilised. Argentina have some very good players, but there isn't a team in the world that can match the Barcelona machine in full flow.
Maradona started his European career at Barcelona as well, but he only stayed for a couple of seasons before moving to Napoli. During his time at Barcelona he was targeted by the "hard men" of Spanish football and he had his leg broken by Andoni Goikoetxea who was also known as "The Butcher of Bilbao" if memory serves me correctly.
Barcelona then sold him to Napoli where he played for seven years, and brought a level of success to the club which they had never seen before.
He won two league titles with Napoli, as well as a UEFA cup and a few other trophies, and he was worshiped in an almost God-like fashion. He was the best player in world football during those years, and only his addiction to cocaine stopped him from reaching even greater heights.
Considering the mess his personal life was in, Maradona did exceptionally well to even manage to play, but he still turned on the style more often than not.
Maradona's international career peaked at the 1986 World Cup when he won trophy almost on his own for Argentina. The individual goal he scored against England in the quarterfinal is still one of the greatest goals in World Cup history, but he became "infamous" for his "Hand of God" goal. It had put Argentina 1-0 up earlier in the game and he scored it by beating the English goalkeeper to a cross by using his hand.
Argentina went on to lift the trophy with a 3-2 victory over West Germany in the final, and Maradona was the star player of the tournament. They lost the next final in 1990 to Germany, but with Maradona nowhere near his best Argentina resorted to spoiling tactics which ruined the tournament as a spectacle. The continual passing back to the goalkeeper in that tournament was directly responsible for the rule change which outlawed the back pass.
The comparison between both players is an easy one to make at times, as they are both similar in stature and skill. Their careers both followed similar paths from Argentina to Barcelona as well, but Messi has had the benefit of his club looking after him and he hasn't gone down the road which Maradona did. The world is Messi's oyster and he can go on to set records for both his club and his country which might never be equaled.
Maradona was a flawed genius which probably made him even more adored by the fans, as he wore his heart on his sleeve. He will always be loved in Argentina for bringing the World Cup to them in 1986, and despite all of his problems he was even allowed to manage their international team in the 2010 World Cup.
During that tournament I thought he didn't utilise Messi to his maximum, and when Messi gets the free role he craves he could well inspire his country to their third World Cup triumph.
In my opinion, Maradona was a better player than Messi, as he managed to excel in a time when he was targeted by defenders and he could do almost unbelievable things on the ball. How he managed to keep playing with his personal problems is quite incredible, and he is considered to possibly be the greatest ever player in the world.
His solo goal against England in 1986 will go down as possibly the greatest ever goal in World Cup history, and his mark on the international game will stay forever.
Messi is still progressing and he can possibly reach the heights that Maradona reached if he continues to do so. There is no doubt that he is the best player in the world at the moment, but he needs to keep playing at his current level for years to come before a true comparison can be drawn with Maradona.
I hope he can go on to emulate or even surpass his countryman, but without delivering a World Cup for Argentina at some stage that won't be an easy thing for him to do.
If Messi stays at Barcelona for the rest of his career he will probably break all sorts of goalscoring records for them and possibly in world football too. I'm looking forward to watching him do just that, and eventually becoming a player of equal status to Maradona in time.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.