Barcelona club president Joan Laporta is getting ahead of himself when he says Lionel Messi is the best footballer ever. One does not become the best in history in the course of a single week of hat tricks. To cement his place as the best footballer to have graced the planet, Messi must remain as good as he is for many more years because longevity — how long you remain great — is a vital yardstick of measurement. Since he s only 22, Messi has a long time ahead of him to prove or disprove he s the greatest.
Messi has been climbing the heights of footballing glory. There is no denying that he is beginning to tower above the likes of his contemporaries Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Messi can yet be described a legend, an adjective bandied about freely but in fact not easily acquired. Pele was a legend. His dribbling was magical and his passing, his pace, powerful shot, exceptional heading ability, and prolific goal scoring were incomparable. His 1,280 goals will never be equaled (Egypt s all-time league scorer, Hassan El-Shazly, tallied all of 176 goals).
Diego Maradona was a legend, a strategist and a team player, as well as highly technical with the ball. He could weasel out of any limited space, attracting defenders only to quickly dash out of the melee (as in the second 1986 goal against England) or give an assist to a free teammate.
Di Stefano was instrumental in Real Madrid s domination of Europe during the 1950s, a period in which the club won the trophy five consecutive seasons. He had great stamina, tactical versatility, and vision, and could play almost anywhere on the pitch.
Known for his technical ability, speed and acceleration, Johan Cruyff s greatest quality was an acute sense of his team-mates positions as an attack unfolded. He was dubbed Pythagoras in boots for the complexity and precision of his angled passes and had mesmeric control on a match from one penalty area to another.
George Best ran defenders ragged. In his native Northern Ireland, the admiration for him is summed up by the local saying: Maradona good; Pele better; George Best.
Zinedine Zidane was a soccer genius who could think three moves ahead.
Deeming Messi better than these giants is a stretch but when you see Messi play it is easy to see why he has drawn comparisons to these past Supermen.When he goes into third gear, Messi is unstoppable. The ball seems tethered to his boot as he manages to zigzag through defenses and cut past players with his patented stop-start bursts of acceleration, creating and exploiting space that no one else on the pitch or in front of the television can see or could have imagined.
Once he gets going, the little Argentine leaves opposing defenders for dead. They can do little more than pray that he may not score as he bamboozles defenders left and right and wrong-foots goalkeepers.
If Messi is already being compared with the greatest footballers of all time it might be because the era in which he is playing is more difficult. The modern age of football now boasts defenders who are bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled, and more tactically intelligent than those who faced players 20 or even 15 years ago. One wonders if the illustrious names of the past would have been so easily recognized in today’s game.
There is one element that keeps the Messi claim as the best footballer in history in question: World Cup glory. Messi himself concedes that what marks a true legend is glory on the international stage. He has said, To be a legend, one needs to win a World Cup. Winning the World Cup for Argentina this July in South Africa or later might put Messi up there with Pele and Maradona although some of the biggest names — Di Stefano, Cruyff and Best — never laid their hands on the trophy.
Messi has been unable to make the same impact for his country as with his Barcelona club. We attribute his inability to perform with the Argentina national team to a lack of supporting players that he has at Barcelona, a change in position, and Maradona’s ineptitude as a coach.
Against us as well, Messi showed he was mortal.Whether in friendly or official matches, Egypt s clubs and national teams have played against Messi, Pele, Di Stefano, Puskas, Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Henry, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rooney, Eusebio, Gerd Muller, Bobby Moore, Geoffrey Hurst, Franz Beckenbauer, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit. Messi was good but not out of this world.
Messi is now at least making more money than any player in history – $45 million last year. David Beckham, who has been first or second in each of the last nine years, took home only $41.5m.
The objective truth is that given his age, skill and team trophies, Messi is dribbling towards footballing history. Messi s not the best footballer in history but he one day could be.