The perennial argument of our times. Just who is the best player that ever played football? Pele? Maradona? Messi? Cristiano Ronaldo?
The emergence of Messi has certainly stoked the argument about and between Pele and Maradona too. The criterion to decide the best player seems to vary from pundit to pundit, from wizard to wizard. Goals scored? Number of trophies won? World Cup won? The checkboxes seem to be different.
I don’t know how the world cup won makes a difference. It is not fair to hold that against Messi. Football is a team sport. And the Argentine defense reminds me of a dilapidated house caught in between a monsoon. Leaking. But on the flip side, Messi gets more protection from the referee than those days. It’s not all right to hack down players anymore. It brings about a beautiful display of the yellow card. Pele on the other hand, got hacked down. He could not play the second game of the 1966 game after persistent fouling by the Bulgarians. And in the third he got clobbered too and had to limp through the rest of the match (substitutes were not allowed back then). Brazil got eliminated in the first round.
Maradona also was another great hero. But you cannot compare goals scored by Maradona to the rest of the two on the list. Pele often uses his goal scored statistic to push his case as the best player in the world. Maradona was an attacking midfielder. But with the ability to conjure magic and change the game in a split second, he won the games for both Argentina and Napoli without necessarily getting on the score sheet. Maradona’s run with a ball was more like some sort of dance. It was like his person and the ball became one entity. Getting a ball was like gouging an eye of a boxing opponent. Difficult. I am pretty sure many would remember this goal Maradona had scored against England in the 1986 World Cup.
So then who is the best player? Of our times, Messi, without a doubt. He is just 24. And if he can stay out of injuries, he has quite a lot of seasons in him left. 235 goals scored. And more on its way. Certainly if he manages to get a World Cup medal in the two or maybe even three attempts he has at it, we can probably then put to rest, the debate that will no matter go on, about who the greatest football player ever was.