Maradona vs. Messi: A Laughable Comparison

John Tilghman Correspondent INovember 4, 2010

Maradona was the unquestioned leader of Napoli in Serie A's Golden Era while Messi thrives in the top-heavy La Liga.
Maradona was the unquestioned leader of Napoli in Serie A's Golden Era while Messi thrives in the top-heavy La Liga.

In the wake of Diego Maradona's 50th birthday on Saturday, numerous people have come out to discuss "El Diez" and what he meant to football.

One man, Xavi Hernandez, decided to make the ludicrous claim that Lionel Messi was in fact better than Maradona. 

There are probably many who actually side with Xavi, without actually knowing much about Maradona's career other than Mexico 1986.

There is also the feeling amongst many "Eurocentric" fans that World Cups and International matches no longer matter, which is another completely false statement. 

In comparing Maradona to Messi, we must point out that they are both left footed and both wear No. 10; however, that's about as far as it goes. 

Maradona was a true "No. 10," a classic Argentine playmaker. Messi is a forward, who on occasion has played as a playmaker but has never thrived in that role. 

Maradona brought a sense of leadership to the pitch. As a 17-year-old, he captained Argentinos Juniors and went on to captain every side he ever played on, including the Argentina Under 20 Team, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Argentina, Sevilla, Newell's Old Boys and then Boca again at the very end. 

Messi is a quiet lad whose talent surely cannot be questioned, but a leader he is not. 

Former Argentina goalkeeper Roberto "El Pato" Abbondonzieri once said: "Messi can never be captain of the national team because he never talks to anyone." 

As far as on the pitch goes, Messi has a great ability to score goals. We must remember, however, that Messi plays in a day and age when all of the best players are concentrated in a few sides.

La Liga is essentially a two-team league, and although the likes of Valencia and Atletico Madrid have put together good sides over the last few years, no team in Spain has the resources to compete with Barcelona and Real Madrid

The clubs are so much bigger than every other team in the league that it is almost silly to watch La Liga matches anymore. 

It has been six years since Valencia won the title, but since then the once proud club has gone into massive debt and constantly has to sell its best players. 

Atletico Madrid has been able to hold on to Diego Forlan and Sergio "El Kun" Aguero, but it is merely a matter of time before they leave the club for greener pastures. 

In Maradona's day, Barcelona was in a long title drought and Real Madrid was not Barcelona's only rival. Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad were riding high at the time. The Spanish League crown actually remained in Basque Country from 1980-84. 

Sadly, the big spending of Madrid and Barcelona has ruled these storied clubs practically irrelevant when it comes to title races and neither has won since. 

Later, when Maradona moved to Napoli, he took a club that had never won a trophy before and was on the brink of relegation to their first "double" (League Title and Copa Italia) in Serie A history.

This at a time when Serie A was the best league in the world and teams like Inter were stacked with the likes of Lothar Mathaus and Andres Brehme, while Juventus had Michel Platini, and AC Milan had the Dutch trio of Gulit, Van Basten and Rijkaard along with Itlalian superstars Baresi, Donadoni and Maldini. 

Even small teams such as Udinese and Fiorentina were able to employ all-time greats such as Zico and Socrates. The idea of players such as those involved with small provincial teams today is laughable.

None of this phased Maradona who went on to lift the UEFA Cup beating Juventus and Bayern Munich along the way in 1989, followed by the Scudetto and Italian Super Cup in 1990. 

Since "El Diego" left Naples, the club has spent much of its time in Serie B and has gone without a trophy. 

All across Italy, Maradona is rated as the best player of all-time and not just by Napoli fans. Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero was the latest to praise "El Pibe de Oro" as the greatest ever just a few days ago. 

People who judge Maradona's career also forget that he actually played for seven years in Argentina before leaving for Europe, leading the Argentine league in scoring a record five times in a row. 

At a tiny club called Argentinos Juniors, Maradona famously predicted he would score four goals against Boca Juniors after goalkeeper Hugo "El Loco" Gatti called him a "fatty". Sure enough, Diego lived up to his word and struck four times. 

At Boca, Maradona took over a team in ruins and led them to the title in his first year. This was a time when the Argentine League was one of the top in the world as most of the best players stayed at home and did not go to Europe like they do now. 

Maradona's highest point of course came in the World Cup of 1986, when he single-handedly (pardon the pun) won the title for Argentina. 

Messi on the other hand, has been extremely poor for Argentina scoring just four times in 18 games during qualification for South Africa 2010, before failing to score a single goal at the tournament itself. 

This is not to say Messi is not a talent, but he has yet to prove he can operate without the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta giving him the ball. 

He must also improve his free kick taking to be considered with Maradona. In his career, Messi has scored just three free kick goals, while Maradona had scored three free kicks in a single game when he was 20! 

El Diego is arguably the greatest free kick-taker of all time, while Messi is third or fourth in line at Barcelona to take them.

Maradona has also scored goals from the half-way line and direct from a corner kick: Messi has yet to even attempt two such goals.

No one is suggesting Messi should move to an unsuccessful team, as Maradona did with Napoli, but he must do something for Argentina to prove he can play at an elite level outside Barcelona. 

In Argentina, Messi does not stand out. There are many fans who downright hate him, while the majority think he is a great player but are still waiting for his breakout game with Argentina. 

Messi is a phenomenon, but a Maradona he is not. 

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