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Is Lionel Messi better than pele?

Discussion in 'Sports' started by Mzee2000, Apr 7, 2012.

  1. M

    Mzee2000 JF-Expert Member

    Apr 7, 2012
    Joined: Aug 7, 2009
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    By Arthur Kennedy

    Last week, Lionel Messi made history by becoming the leading scorer in Barcelona history with 246 goals. Inevitably, there were comparisons with Maradona and Pele and a return to the eternal argument as to who is or was the greatest soccer player ever.

    To be fair, there are a few other players who belong in a conversation about soccer’s greats. Amongst these are Di Stefano, Ronaldo, Zidane, Best and Platini. Indeed, even the definitions of greatness are subjective. If Lionel Messi wins five more Champions League trophies but no world cup, would he still be one of the greatest legends? How great would be his greatness compared to say Iniesta or Cassillas? What is the role of team in defining greatness? Since soccer is a team sport, is team destiny in soccer?

    I am an ardent Lionel Messi fan and I think that he is certainly the best player and possibly the greatest—of those playing now. His goals for Barcelona, added to his 22 goals in 68 appearances for Argentina make him one of the greats. However, he does not belong in the conversation as to who is the greatest --yet. Indeed, to lower the bar and get Messi into the competition, some have argued that the UEFA Champions League competition is tougher than the World Cup. Not really. Anyone who doubts the quality of the World Cup should look at how Messi has struggled to make an impact on the World Cup Finals as compared to his easy predominance of the Champions League. If the world cup was so easy, why has Messi struggled so much to make an impact? The apologists for Leo Messi point out that soccer is a team sport and that Messi alone cannot win a world cup without the support of his team. That argument has a few flaws. The first is that one cannot extol his exceptional qualities when playing for Barcelona while excusing his inability to make an impact while playing for Argentina. To be fair to Argentina, it was a formidable soccer force long before Messi showed up. It had won World Cups in 1978 and 1986.

    To be honest, while Messi deserves most of his accolades, his selection as the best player in the World in 2010 defied logic. Messi had done very well in Spain and Europe but had had a very unimpressive World Cup outing in South Africa. Furthermore, there were quite a few of his Barcelona team-mates who had, in addition to their heroics for Barcelona, won a World Cup, including Iniesta. It would seem that one of the boys who found glory with both Barcelona and Spain would have been a more deserving winner of the Ballon D’or. As far as Messi is concerned, the comparisons with Pele are very, very premature. To equal Pele’s 1,283 goals, he needs to score a little over 50 goals per year for the next fourteen years. While that is possible, it is unlikely. So we should leave Messi to dominate the current era and revisit the arguments that led to Pele and Maradona been jointly selected as the greatest players of the last century in 1999.

    I have heard of this argument as to whether Pele or Maradona was the greatest ever for some time so I decided to check it out. To settle it, I looked at statistics, read the comments of contemporaries and then watched some videos. Both are amazing players. We can compare the two legends on total goals ,international goals world cups won, world cup finals goals and the comments of contemporaries.

    First, let us look at the goals. Maradona had 292 goals during his career while Pele had 1,283 goals. Before saying advantage Pele, let me put on the table some concerns raised about Pele’s goals. Some claim that Pele’s goal total may have been padded and that the Brazilians were not very careful with crediting goals. Furthermore, Pele’s opponents contend that it is a bit difficult to compare goals scored in the Argentine league to goals scored in the Brazilian or Spanish leagues. These of course, are legitimate concerns. Therefore, let us compare Pele’s and Maradona’s goals just on the international level. As fate will have it, both of them were capped 91 times by their countries. Maradona scored an impressive 34 goals for Argentina while Pele netted an incredible 77 times for Brazil. That should settle it but here is the icing on the cake. Both of them had four World Cup Final appearances, playing in --- games. Maradona scored 8 times in 21 games while Pele scored twelve times in 14 games.

    As to World Cup Championships won, Maradona won one, in 1986 while Pele won thrice, in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Here, it must be noted that Pele missed the final game of the 1962 tournament because of injury.

    Then I watched video of the two legends. Maradona moves with incomparable grace on the field and he was mesmerizing. However, it was difficult to determine whether Pele was left or right-footed and he was lethal in the air. Pele, it seemed was a more complete player than Maradona.

    Next, I looked at what the contemporaries of these two legends had to say about them. There were many varied opinions but I selected quotes from just two because they came from names that are easily recognizable and summed up greatness.

    The first quote was from Ference Puskas who now enjoys the singular honour of having the best goal in the world each year named after him by FIFA. This award has so far been claimed by Real Madrid and Portuguese legend Christian Ronaldo and Brazilian and Santos sensation Neymar. Said Puskas, “The greatest player in history was Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pele as a player. He was above that.”

    The final quote is from Johan Cruyff, the star of the Netherlands team that made successive appearances in the final matches of the world cup in 1974 and 1978 and lost to West Germany and Argentina respectively. “Pele” he said “was the only footballer who surpassed the boundaries of logic”.

    The final testimonial to Pele came from his teammates for the 1958 world cup. When the final whistle went, they carried the seventeen year- old Pele shoulder-high in acknowledgement of his contribution to their team. To be carried shoulder-high by his Brazilian team-mates speaks volumes.

    Given how persuasive the statistics are about Pele’s incomparable achievements, why does the establishment seem always at work—trying to find a new “greatest in soccer”?

    Would we be arguing about who was greater between Pele and Maradona if they were both black or both white? I wonder. Would people be breathlessly comparing Messi to Pele if Messi was black or Pele was white?

    I do not know the answers to these questions but looking at the statistics have made me confused about the arguments.

    Finally, while the argument rages, I have been disappointed at the conduct of Pele, Maradona and Messi. Pele has repeatedly criticized Messi and Maradona and suggested that they should wait till an Argentine score 1283 goals and wins three world cups before comparing that person to him. While those are valid points to make, they would sound better coming from someone else. The argument sounds a bit arrogant coming from Pele. On the other hand, Messi and Maradona have never missed opportunities to criticize or belittle Pele. They should celebrate Pele’s greatness. When Messi claimed he had never bothered to watch video or films of Pele playing soccer, he demeaned himself, not Pele. To be a legend like Pele, Maradona or some of the others is a rare privilege and the legends should respect one another and thank God for the rare talents that have made them so famous.

    Let the beautiful game produce more Peles, Maradonas and Messis and may the World Cup be brought to Africa one of these days.

    Arthur Kennedy
  2. Mphamvu

    Mphamvu JF-Expert Member

    Apr 8, 2012
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    My money for Diego...