Ahead of tonight’s El Clasico, and the small matter of Barcelona vs Real Madrid, the main showdown will be between two of the best players currently in the world, and perhaps ever: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The pair have been destroying records of all shapes and sizes, Ronaldo has broken his own La Liga goals record of 40, with 5 games remaining, whilst Messi has used up every single positive superlative available. He’s at 63 goals and counting in ALL competitions, became the first man ever to score 5 in on Champions League game, and become Barcelona’s record goal scorer, with 243 goals so far. It is this, and much more which lead me to believe that Messi is the better of the two, and potentially, the best football player to have ever lived.
First of all, I have never seen Maradona or Pele play, bar the grainy clips that feature on YouTube and have been repeated for eternity all around the world for years. Straight away, this probably puts me at a disadvantage, but I’ve seen these clips and appreciated them for what they were, two incredible players that matched their talents with the immense achievement of the Holy Grail, the World Cup. Now Messi has never come near any World Cup success, only coming runners-up in the Copa America in 2007, however, there are plenty more years ahead for this to problem to be solved.
It’s Messi’s sheer talent on the ball that is reminiscent to his fellow countryman, El Diego, his ability to slalom in and out of challenges at increasing speeds is something to be admired. Some saw it as arrogance, the fact he could twist defences inside and out, before casually slotting the ball past the keeper.
But then, as he grew in reputation and became known throughout the Europe, it was obvious he carried himself differently to many other players of lesser ability than himself, and arguably, Ronaldo. When he was fouled, he’d get back up again, when he scored he didn’t linger in the moment, showing extreme joy and then moving onto score another, he was certainly different. This grounded sense of modesty must be difficult to handle, especially when one considers he has received 72 individual awards since 2005, and 20 team honours with club and country-and he’s only 24?! Also, bare in mind these are some of club football’s top trophies, the likes of La Liga, the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.
As I said previously, Messi’s goal-getting ability is incredible, no-one has scored over 60 goals in a season since the legendary Gerd Muller decades ago, but it’s also his selflessness. This season, in 53 games, we’ve seen 63 goals for the little man, but also 25 assists. It’s that little additional assists statistic that also makes him stand out from the rest, without Messi, Barcelona would’ve lost a mammoth 88 goals. Now this stinks of ‘one man team’, but that’s for another argument, Messi is clearly a talismanic figure for Barca, as much of a creative force as a pure attacking, he offers his teammates routes to goal, moreso than his direct modern day rival Ronaldo, who’s still seen as a selfish player. In my opinion, Ronaldo still could do with improving this side of his game, sometimes resisting the urge to shoot from 40 yards out, and progressing his team’s attack instead, as Barca benefit so often from Messi and his choices.
Now, I’ve been lucky enough to see Messi in the flesh, visiting Madrid for Atletico vs Barca back in February, and the experience of seeing both Messi and Barca was incredible. The way they move the ball about the pitch is well documented, but it’s the way they suffocate the opposition for the brief moments they have the ball that impressed me, and in turn, allowed them to keep possession for such large periods of time. Messi is also incredible. He almost squeezed home and wonderful little run and dink over the keeper, with only an errant handball in the buildup hindering him, before later on in the game, showing one of his ‘weakest’ points, and scoring a free-kick, from a ridiculous angle. However, he wasn’t the player every Barca man looked to, as they showed they had a varied line-up, with players like Fabregas, Xavi and fellow scorer Dani Alves, all showing their attacking worth. New man Alexis Sanchez, should become the player many expected him to become this season in this forthcoming one, as he looks to integrate himself in the Barca line-up. They certainly confirmed their status as best team in the world, with the current best player in it also.
Messi is the world’s next superstar. He’s already replaced David Beckham as the most highly paid player in the world (just the $43.5million a year), a fact highlighted by his appearance on the front cover of the huge “TIME’ magazine a couple of months ago. He’s smashing records left, right and centre, entertaining billions around the world in the process, with his and Barcelona’s amazing ‘tika-taka’ style of football revolutionising the way teams play. He appears as level-headed off the pitch, as he is on it, which some have claimed is ‘boring’, but if this allows a worldwide football audience to appreciate such ability and talent for longer than we did with Maradona (due to his drugs ban), or more recently Mario Balotelli, than I will accept that. Some still say he has a lot to prove. I think these doubters will only remain silent, should the Argentinian secure the World Cup for his country, a strong possibility of which could happen at the next in Brazil 2014, Messi will have reached his ‘peak’ (at the age of 26), current world champions Spain may have just lost the services of an ageing Xavi, Puyol and David Villa with only the resurgent youth of the Germans seemingly there in the way, although that won’t be all if you believe anything the English media have to say…
I think everyone at the moment, however, can agree that Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, some may just need convincing that he is the best to have ever played the game. He is certainly a living legend.