Having never been lucky enough to see Pele or Maradona in their prime and whilst I am aware of their amazing goal scoring records and achievements, but now Messi is fast gaining ground on them.
Others, including your columnist say Messi is the greatest to ever play the game, and they have their reasons for believing so.
With the former two, but especially Pele, for those of us who grew up long after he had kicked his last ball, it’s hard to make fine comparisons. Yet one thing is clear, Messi is a cut over rest of what out generation has seen, and here I include Zidane, Ronaldo Nazário de Lima, Ronaldinho, Romario, Rivaldo and Ronaldo.
Maradona, I only remember seeing him in bits while he was captain of Argentina until his luck ran out on him [remember his failed drugs test during US 1994 World Cup?], yet Messi’s performance for Barca over the last 3, 4 years has brought about comparisons with the greatest to ever kick a football in anger.
This debate about who is the best or the greatest is a necessary evil, we can’t do without it as it keeps busy in bars and newsrooms. We all love the beautiful game, we watch it passion and we make different interpretation of what we see, and in the end we fail to agree on key issues.
And as armchair analyst, and unfortunately not old enough to be give conclusive evidence on the greatness of both Pele and Maradona, most especially the former, I will be honored to tell my grandchildren [if or when I live to see that happening] that I saw a player called Lionel Messi play in his prime.
In football, the pub arguments are the best ones and this is more or less in the same category. It is always difficult to compare different generations of sports people, and this is even trickier as I was not privileged enough to see Pele or Maradona in the flesh.
However, I have seen some of what these great players did and boy, they did stuff—it’s every player’s dreams to even be compared to them.
Maradona is remembered most for his wonder goal against England during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico but Messi has scored a number of goals like it. Pele has won three World Cups which is unbelievable but you have question the standard of opposition he came up against.
He never played in top European leagues, and while I don’t rule out South American leagues completely, his goal scoring exploits in Brazil have to be questioned. Messi is playing in an era where every team is organised and very professional.
In the Champions League he plays against the strongest, fastest and smartest defenders around, and he destroys them. That coupled with the fact that sport evolves and naturally players become better and better suggests that Messi is the best player who has ever lived. He keeps getting better.
At just 24 and yet to hit his peak, Messi has almost won everything there to be won in professional football. You can talk of him not having the world cup yet, but you still can’t rule out his chances of doing it before he retires. If he achieves it, maybe Pele will and my friend John will eat a humble pie.
After reading Pele’s latest jibe at Messi on Thursday where he re-emphasized that for Messi to be the regarded the greatest player, he will need to score more that 1283 goals! I find this a bit silly, when did footballers’ standards start being measured on the number of goals scored?
“Messi better than Pele? To get there he needs to score more than 1283 goals,” the Brazilian legend was quoted as saying in reference to a question from a journalist on whether he sees Messi as one the greatest players.
Pele is credited to have scored 1283 goals throughout his career, although only 643 came in official matches, which leaves the majority of goal coming in friendlies. Messi has so far netted 180 times for club and country. Maradona is credited with 312 goals during his playing career.
Pele’s stats include many friendly matches and sub-standard games. He played most of his career in the Brazilian league which is considered much weaker than the European leagues. Pele also played in the American league.
Pele and his camp think he is the greatest; Maradona and his people think otherwise and now Messi and Co believes he’s the special thing to ever kick a ball in competitive anger (ask any Arsenal, Man United or even Real Madrid fans).
Yet Pele thinks Messi will never be the best as he will never score, first 1000 goals, now 1283 [the old man keep changing goal posts]. But going by what I read in different media, Pele played in a poor Brazilian league and with a national team that could win without him.
And what we know of Maradona is that he dragged Argentina to the world cup win  by himself and not forgetting what did for Napoli.
Maradona also played for Barcelona and is regarded by most football fans from different generations across the global as the greatest, greater than Pele but in his words “Messi is better than I was”.