There is a select group of sporting greats who make people stand up and notice them, make the hairs stand up on the back of their necks and present their sport as an art form as opposed to solely physical skill. As generations come and go, they produce an elite minority, such as Usain Bolt, the fastest man who has ever lived, who has revolutionised sprinting completely. It takes a special talent to stand out above the rest and make people see their sport differently. Many football players have graced the beautiful game down the years, such as Pele, Zinedine Zidane, Gerd Muller and so on.
But in my opinion, and in the opinion of the slight majority, there is one outstanding individual who has already proved himself the greatest player to have ever lived, Messi. At the tender age of 26, Argentina’s Lionel Messi has already scored over 300 goals and picked up three Champions League trophies with Barcelona in the process. Even great players of the past such as Manchester United and England legend Bobby Charlton has been quoted as saying Messi will go down as the greatest player ever. Although this is a basically unheard of opinion, it honestly baffles me when people compare Messi to players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and more notably Diego Maradona. Despite these two being arguably two of the greatest talents ever, I personally believe that Messi is in his own league which far exceeds any other player before him.
There are players such as Ronaldinho who was the best of his time who every five games or so does something extraordinary but Messi is consistently brilliant. Let’s not forget that Pele who scored over 1,000 goals in his career, despite highly impressive, was a stand out talent above all others who spent his entire playing time in the notably weaker Brazilian divisions. The era in which Lionel Messi is performing is played at lightning pace, with far more intelligent opposition with the increased employment of advanced tactics and strategies. Messi frequently comes up against teams whose game plan is to solely concentrate on himself, however he still manages to notch over 50 goals every season with ease. His ball control is on a level far above and beyond any I’ve ever witnessed on a football pitch, and when you add immaculate vision and predatory finishing, the Argentinian skipper has the obvious credentials to be the best ever.
Aside from the beautiful manner in which Barcelona play football, with arguably the best midfielders in the world in Spaniards Xavi and Iniesta, without Lionel Messi’s sometimes 60-70 goals a season, it’s difficult to see where else Barcelona would find such prolific attacking prowess in their ranks without him. He is a game changer, and on the rare occasion Messi is kept quiet, the team appear to implode too. As with all great players, he always seems to step up in the big games, notably in games against arch domestic rivals Real Madrid and especially in the Champions League. Who could forget when the little man absolutely stole the show in the Nou Camp against Arsenal where he scored four sensational goals, making one of England’s best teams look like mere spectators. Or when he broke another record by being the first player to score five goals in a single Champions League match when he ran Bayer Leverkusen ragged.
His performances against Madrid have proved the most memorable, when he scored a hat-trick at the tender age of 19 in one of his first games for the first team. Or when he broke the deadlock late on in a Champions League semi-final against their main rivals by turning in an Afellay cross and them breathtakingly dribbling past four Madrid defenders before delicately pushing the ball past Iker Casillas to send them through to the final that year. Then there’s the finals themselves.
Although Messi didn’t feature in his first Champions League triumph in 2006 when picking up the medal, it was a very different story in the two finals against Manchester United in 2009 and 2011 respectively. In Rome in 2009, the first season in which Messi really announced himself as the world’s best player, Messi and co. ran out comfortable 2-0 victors over United, in the match dubbed Messi vs. Ronaldo; Messi won. Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring early on before Xavi sent in a seemingly unsuccessful cross bound for Messi late in the second half who sensationally soared head and shoulders above the much taller and favoured Rio Ferdinand to plant a devastating header into the back of Edwin van der Sar’s net.
He later on went to receive the man of the match award for his world class display before lifting his second European cup at the age of just 22. Two seasons later and two World Player of the Year Awards later, Messi’s Barcelona would once again meet Manchester United in the Champions League final, this time at Wembley. Due to the match being held in United’s homeland, the stage seemed set for the English giants to enact their revenge after the heartache of two years previous. Even though Pedro opened the scoring early on for Barca, United still seemed completely in the match when Wayne Rooney equalised later on in the first half.
However, when Messi picked the ball up in a couple of yards of space about thirty yards from the United goal, the end result seemed inevitable, and so it transpired to be. He quickly darted into a shooting position before powerfully unleashing a shot which bounced in front of van der Sar and nestled into the bottom corner of the Dutchman’s net once again. The stadium erupted in awe as it watched the world’s greatest player produce another moment of utter magic. David Villa added his own spectacular goal late on and Barca ran out 3-1 winners and Messi had another European triumph to his name, another man of the match award and another goal against Manchester United on the grandest club stage of them all.
One factor which consistently bugs me is when people claim players such as Maradona and Pele are superior to Messi solely because they both won the World Cup with their respective nations of Argentina and Brazil. Many suggest Messi must win a World Cup and perform to a better standard on the international stage to merit the honour of being named the greatest player ever. However, people seem to ignore the fact that Pele was not alone in his talents on his way to winning five World Cups, he just happened to have arguably the greatest squad of players ever assembled to help him out, he wasn’t the sole reason.
Also, when Argentina won the trophy in 1986, Maradona had a similar privilege. And to people who say Messi doesn’t perform on the international stage, friendly or not, name me two more players other than Lionel Messi who have scored a hat-trick against the Brazilian national side? You’re wasting your time. Also, despite the current attacking talents of the Argentinian national squad such as Messi, Aguero, Tevez, Palacio, Lavezzi, Higuain and so on, their midfield and defence are dire, which is no fault of Messis. Despite what many claim, Maradona did not single handedly win the World Cup, he had a team around him worthy of the title too, which Messi does not when you consider the might of current national squads such as Spain, Brazil, Italy and so on.
If Messi does win the World Cup, in my opinion it will only confirm further what is already evident, that he is the best there ever has been. Another notch on Messi’s astonishing record is that he is the first player in history to win the award of best player in the world for four successive seasons, starting from 2008/09 season to still being at the summit of world football in present day. There is only one way in which he will be knocked off his throne; when he finally hangs up his boots, which will be a sad day for the sport of football, at least we can tell future generations when they come to hear about this supreme talent, that we saw the greatest football player there has ever been and unless a superhuman is born, the greatest there ever will be; Lionel Messi.