Pele Rips Leo Messi, Says Barcelona Star Is "Incomplete," "Can't Use His Head"

Adam HirshfieldFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2011

Pele is best known for being the Babe Ruth of world football. But in recent years, the Brazilian soccer legend has become nearly as well known for his outrageous comments.

Time to add another to the list.

Celebrating his 71st birthday in London this week as his soccer brand, Pele Sports, launches a new cleat, Pele took the opportunity to offer a backhanded compliment/criticism of Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

"I would love to play with Lionel Messi,” Pele told the press at the event. “But Messi is an incomplete player because he can't use his head."

Whatwhatwhat, Mr. Arantes do Nascimento?!?!

How dare you question the two-time reigning FIFPro World Player of the Year? How dare you find fault with the man who’s scored 154 goals in his last 174 games for Barcelona (including a ridiculous 75 in his last 77 La Liga matches)? How dare you question a player who’s already led his club side to three Champions League titles before turning 24?

And OK, maybe the Argentina national stands just 5’6½”, and he’s not exactly Miroslav Klose in the air, but it’s not like he can’t score with his head:

But the birthday boy didn’t stop there in his critiquing:

“Also I played football for 20 years,” Pele continued. “Messi has only played for several years."

OK, sir. You’re 71. Messi is 24. He has a long way to go to catch up to your three World Cup titles, your nearly 1,300 career goals and your Athlete of the Century awards. We get it.

But Messi’s still great, isn’t he?

"If there is one player in the world today I would love to play with, it is Neymar."

Come on, Pele! OK, Neymar is fun to watch...and he's Brazilian like him. But why so harsh on Leo?

Pundits and fans alike are constantly making comparisons between Pele, Diego Maradona and now Messi, so they must all get sick of being asked about each other, right?

It would seem so, even for the typically humble Messi, who has said multiple times that he’s never seen Pele play.

But as’s Jason Davis suggests: 

“No one does careful guarding of his best player legacy like Pele does careful guarding of his best player legacy.”

Courtesy of James McCauley/Pele Sports
Courtesy of James McCauley/Pele Sports

And as a result, says the Buenos Aires Herald, Pele “has vowed to send Messi a copy of the 2004 documentary ‘Pelé Forever,’ which contains the highlights of his football career playing for Brazil, Santos, and New York Cosmos.”

“It is a normal thing when a player is compared to a player from another time period, sometimes he is not interested in the comparison,” Pele told Globoesporte.

“If he really did not see me, I'll do what I once did with Maradona: I'll send him the video 'Pelé Eterno' and then he will.”

So what do you think? Can Messi use his head? Is Pele the most egotistical athlete of the 20th century? Will Messi actually watch the Pele video?

My guesses: yes, yes and no chance in hell.

But, boy, is it fun to hear these superstars bicker back and forth with each other.