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Magical Messi stands in Man United's way

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Jonathan Stevenson | 23:50 UK time, Monday, 23 May 2011

Even in my head, the question sounds stupid. "Can Lionel Messi get any better?"

The Argentine's biographer Luca Caioli thinks for a moment. "Messi's football is so good right now that the only person we have to compare him to is Diego Maradona, because like Maradona he can change the story of a match by himself," he says. "And if you look at Maradona, he was at his best in the 1986 World Cup, when he was 25. Messi is 23. So can Messi be better next year? Of course.

"No-one can really predict what will happen to this boy. Every trainer I interviewed for the book, from his first in Argentina - Salvador Ricardo Aparicio - to his Barca coaches Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola and his former Argentina boss Alfio Basile all told me the same thing: 'We don't know what the limit is for this kid'."

If the last three seasons are any guide, the sky is the limit for Lionel Andres Messi. Over that period, he has scored 137 goals in 158 games, becoming the youngest player to win the Ballon d'Or twice and helping Barcelona to three successive La Liga titles and the 2009 Champions League, along with several other trophies in the process.

On Saturday, with a heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders, Messi will lead Barca into battle at Wembley as they take on Manchester United in the Champions League final, a chance for the Blaugrana's number 10 to take himself and his all-star team a little further down the road to immortality.

Messi, Barca's leader by prolific example, is a phenomenon, a sportsman who does impossible things as a matter of course. It is perhaps more remarkable that in an age when many of his peers seem vaingloriously obsessed by self-promotion, he carries out his acts of genius while wearing a look of guilt that suggests he's not entirely sure he should even be there in the first place.

"He's a very timid person, hugely shy," adds Caioli. "I spoke to his best friend when he was a child, Cintia Arellano, and she told me he didn't speak at school. Even now, it's hard to tell what mood he's in." When he arrived at Barca as a 4ft 7in 13-year-old, his fellow under-graduates were bemused. "We thought he was mute," admitted Gerard Pique.

In the 10 years since his arrival at Barca's famed La Masia academy, Messi has let his feet do most of the talking. Today, the discussion over the identity of the world's finest player - for so long pitting Messi against Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, his polar opposite - barely exists; instead, the debate centres on whether Messi deserves to be bracketed with legends such as Pele, Maradona and Johan Cruyff.

"Yes, he is on his way to becoming one of the greats," said former Barca player and coach Cruyff last month. Even Maradona, not a man prone to extolling other people's virtues, has acknowledged Messi's threat: "Only at the end of history will we see who was the greatest, Maradona or Messi."

Messi's goalscoring record in the last three seasons is staggering. Pic credit: BBC

Messi's goalscoring record in the last three seasons is staggering. Pic credit: BBC

I asked Roberto Carlos, who played directly against Messi several times, what he was like to face. "He has absolutely fantastic speed in the dribble," said the former Real Madrid left-back. "It was very, very hard to play against him. He is the best in the world no question, and he is young so he has plenty of time to improve too."

Argentina coach Sergio Batista is well versed in footballing legend. Given his history and his current job, the 48-year-old - a man who won the World Cup playing a supporting role alongside Maradona in 1986 - is superbly placed to discuss the planet's most talked-about sportsman.

"Leo is a virtuoso," Batista told me. "He does things with the ball that just seem impossible. He's got great ability. His control of the ball when he is running at high speed is excellent. He has a superb shot. There is precision in his passing. To summarise... he's got everything. He has every single attribute you would want to find in a player. That's the reason why he is the best footballer in the world."

I asked Batista to describe what it is like to take a training session comprising Messi. "He likes to be permanently in contact with the ball, of course," he says. "In every session he has the same enthusiasm and he is always one of the last to leave the pitch at the end. He likes to stay until after the finish, to have a play with the ball on his own or do some training exercises with the goalkeepers. He just loves to play."

And how we love to watch him. There are many different ways of enjoying sport, but I live in constant hope that one of the protagonists will take my breath away. I not only want them to do something I know I couldn't; I want them to do what I hadn't even imagined was possible.

Step forward Messi, sport's ultimate 21st century inventor. He creates space where there appears to be none; it often seems as though he is playing in a vacuum which no-one else can get close to, and when he gets in front of goal he finds new ways of putting the ball into the net. He doesn't just do things better than everyone else, he is now doing them with devastating relentlessness too.

He did not start his career as a striker, but Messi has scored 52 goals this season. We're talking about a half-century in a sport that is not supposed to deal in such figures. Fifties are the reserve of the batsman celebrating a run milestone in cricket, or the thrower checking out with a bull in darts. Before Messi, it was not considered possible in one of the best football leagues in the world. Before Messi, it wasn't possible.

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Messi can be stopped - Ferdinand

True, Ronaldo has scored 53 times this season. But consider this: when Messi scored his second goal in the Bernabeu in Barca's Champions League tie at Real Madrid in April, it was his 52nd strike in 49 games. It all-but sealed a place in the Champions League final and Barca had already wrapped up a third successive La Liga title.

At the same time Ronaldo, who failed to get on the scoresheet in the semi-finals in Europe, had 42 goals in 49 games. In his last four La Liga games, with the title gone and Real out of Europe, Ronaldo has run riot, scoring 11 goals and reaching 40 in the league. Hugely impressive? Yes. Record-breaking? Yes. But there is an element of personal glory about it, as he and his team-mates - who have concentrated on helping Ronaldo - have conceded.

Messi, on the other hand, has gone without a goal since the colossal second he scored in the Bernabeu that night in April. As Barca took their foot off the accelerator the club's - and Messi's - focus turned to Saturday. "Goals are only important if they win you games," he says. "My interest is in the collective success of the team, not individual glory."

Messi, being kept fresh for Saturday's final, did not even feature in Barcelona's final two league games, his last appearance coming on 11 May in a 1-1 draw at Levante. He has been itching to get back on a football field, cutting a frustrated figure as he sat on the bench for the whole 90 minutes against Deportivo on 15 May.

I cast my mind back six years to another occasion when he sat on the Barca bench and what, in a footballing sense, is starting to feel like a JFK moment.

When Messi scored his first goal for Barca on 1 May, 2005, I was watching Barca-Albacete on TV at home. A routine 1-0 win for Barca seemed to be on the cards when manager Rijkaard threw on a fragile-looking 17-year-old in the 88th minute of the league contest.

Within two minutes of jogging on to the pitch Messi had a cute finish disallowed for a marginal offside and less than a minute later he had his goal - the precocious one belying his tender years to play a give-and-go with Ronaldinho, keep his composure and loft the ball sublimely over the on-rushing goalkeeper and into the net.

It was a thunderbolt moment; a handful of seconds etched into my consciousness, in the beginning thanks to the captivating nature of the cameo and now, six years later, for what it has come to represent: the first significant act of one of the finest footballers of them all.

Typically for one so humble, Messi recalls the day by paying tribute to Rijkaard: "I'll never forget the fact that he launched my career, that he had confidence in me while I was only 16 or 17."

Rijkaard wasn't the only one. Upon collecting his Ballon d'Or trophy in 2006, Ronaldinho gave the world notice of what was to come. "This award says I'm the best player in the world, but I'm not even the best player at Barcelona. Since he began to come and train with us we knew we would go down this path. Someday I will explain that I was at the birth of one of the footballing greats: Leo Messi."

Messi's career has since gone through the stratosphere. Trophies, awards, accolades, praise from peers and adulation from audiences everywhere has justly followed every goal he has scored and every beautiful moment he has created.

But where did his drive, his burning desire to succeed, come from? I asked Caioli, who spoke to the man himself as well as a collection of family, friends, coaches and colleagues to put together his book: 'The Inside Story of the Boy Who Became A Legend'.

"You cannot underestimate how much this boy wanted to become a footballer," said Caioli, who has also written books on Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldinho. "He took difficult, brave decisions. He left home when he was 13, a small boy, and accepted staying at Barca's academy at La Masia, thousands of miles away from his family in Argentina.

"But you can't possibly know you're going to become a footballer. You can lose, no? He had the will to try, he had the determination to succeed. This passion he has for the game, it is so pervasive it enables him to put everything else in his life to one side."

It is just as well that Messi does not let outside influences effect him. He has been called a "genius" by Maradona, a "sensation" by Cruyff and a "PlayStation footballer" by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. "Once, they said they can only stop me with a pistol - but you need a machine gun to stop him," said Barca legend Hristo Stoichkov. After a Messi exhibition in one game last year, Real Zaragoza's Ander Herrera went further: "I'm not sure he's human."

On Saturday, Messi will be hoping to score his first goal on English soil and have another decisive say on European football's annual showpiece. After a disappointing 2010 World Cup he will have to wait another three years to deliver on the biggest stage of all, but a global audience of hundreds of millions provides him with a significant platform in the interim.

Messi's place in the pantheon of greats is already assured; the only question now is whether he can reach the summit. On Saturday night, we may be a little closer to finding out. "I don't obsess about being the best in the world," said Messi in an interview once. But then again, he doesn't have to.

Statistics courtesy of Infostrada Sports.

Comments

Page 1 of 4

  • Comment number 1.

    Best player ever.

    23 years old, been the best in the world for the past 3 years, Messi will set new standards for what we class as the greatest of all time.

  • Comment number 2.

    Without a doubt the best player I've ever seen.

    Scary that the best may be yet to come, will definitely go down as THE best of all time!

  • Comment number 3.

    eat your socks off

  • Comment number 4.

    He's no Leon Osman.

  • Comment number 5.

    Without a doubt an exceptional player but yet again for me people are getting over hyped about Messi. I say calm down and look at this objectively. Take in a few points before you start claiming crazy statements such as 'best ever'.

    Messi has succeeded at a very young age and has achieved a lot because of this. For me this is irrelevant. Not all players develop at a young age and quite a few developed in their 20's. He shouldn't be praised higher than these players just because he was fortunate enough to develop earlier than them. Just because he is still young dosen't mean he will develop any further either. He may have reached the best of his abilities or unable to develop further because Barca can't develop him any further.

    Cristiano Ronaldo's record is completely dismissed as being for personal pride which is unfair. Ronaldo is a different type of player to Messi so it is stupid to compare the two as Ronaldo is better than Messi at some aspects and vice to versa. Messi at the moment may be the better player but no one can say Ronaldo is a terrible player. They both have scored a lot of goals. They have both scored excellent goals. However, there have been more prolific players than them of a 'lesser' quality and there will also be the arguement of 'they are playing in La Liga' and 'they are both playing in brilliant sides'. Both are valid points to be fair but it still takes a great player to score that many.

    Pele has been criticised recently by many of Messi's 'fan boys' as he as said that Messi must prove himself on the national stage to be compared to players like Platini, Cruyff and Maradona. Do not take this the wrong way as I agree. He is not saying that Messi has to win a world cup, though replicating what Maradona achieved would be a step in the right direction, he just has to perform on the international stage. So far his performance on the international stage has been average for his standards. Every great player was able to perform on the international stage with some conviction which Messi has failed to do so far.

    I'm not saying he won't/can't be the best player ever just don't judge on that until he has finished his career. He may develop further, he may not. He could end up like Owen. Messi has to achieve a lot and hopefully he will continue to have a sublime career. Take more thought before you decide to post a comment such as 'Messi is the best ever' as he has much to imrpove. Pele and Maradona are regarded as the best and rightfully so, Messi has some big boots to fill.

  • Comment number 6.

    Actually, i believe Ronaldo is the better player between the two. I get a lot of stick from my friends from this because Messi is the media's golden boy. Before everyone on here kicks off, Messi IS one of the greatest players i have ever seen and Ronaldo is too.

    I think that out of the two, Ronaldo is more the complete player, not only does he keep up with Messi's outrageous amount of goals, but he is big, powerful and exceptional in the air too. Its also a credit to Cristiano that at over 6ft he still has the close ball control to rival Messi, the "good touch for a big man" never applied better than here.

    But what i think really gives Ronaldo the edge is that he has the ability to carry teams through a game, if Real Madrid aren't playing well then you can expect Ronaldo to pop up and steal the 3 points for them. Something he did for Man utd many times. Messi, i think, is more prone to going down with his team (though it is rare Barcelona play badly in the first place) and if Barcelona weren't playing well, i'd look to the likes of Xavi and Iniesta to really step it up and pull the other team apart.

    Finally, theres the point that Barcelona have the best passers/forwards in the world in their team, anyone would benefit from the service Lionel Messi gets and a player of his quality is always going to put away any slight sniff of a chance. But i think if you swapped Ronaldo and Messi around, and it was Ronaldo playing for Barcelona, not only do i believe he would be the one everyone was talking about, but he would give Barcelona the option of actually crossing a ball making them even more dangerous because they could then attack you from anywhere and trying to shuffle them out to the wings (as Hercules did and Rubin Kazan have done a few times now) would be ineffectual.

    If that were the case, then this blog would have a certain Portuguese man as its topic instead.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am just glad that I am lucky enough to see him play week in & week out... What a man & what a player.... Having watching football from 1984 the only other player I can talk of in the same breath is Diego... And with another 3-4 years still go with Messi in prime I hope he just leaves this debate a no debate at the end of it all... And for that he has to win the World cup for the Albi Celeste!

  • Comment number 8.

    Jonathan, you forgot something very important about Messi - he is the best passer in the world! The one pass that matters is called the assist, and he has it like no other!

    The only other sportsman that I can compare to Messi in the 30 years I have been interested in sports is Michael Jordan. To both men, their sport comes to them naturally, they surprise you every time they perform and are just down to earth regular guys. Jordan was magic, and so is Messi - the little genius!

  • Comment number 9.

    Give me Ronaldo any day, he plays for a much weaker side that's constantly being changed and carries them, outshining Kaka and other world stars easily. He's also played in different countries too whereas Messi has stayed somewhere where they base the team around him. I doubt I'll ever see Messi as the greatest ever until he moves away from that pathetic Spanish league, just like Pele stayed in Brazil but what separates him from Messi is that Pele performed for Brazil. He's not half the player for the Argies, thats why, for me, there's no doubt that Maradona was the better player. Why is it that Messi doing nothing for Argentina is never really brought up? We just love to hype players up so much. He's human and what separates him from every other player is that he's surrounded by the worlds best. It's no surprise Spain won the world cup and not the Argies, Iniesta and Xavi are the reason.

  • Comment number 10.

    If there is one thing to nitpick about Messi's game it's his movement off the ball. It is truly terrible, and it is either because of his largely individual skillset or because he has subliminally stopped running into open spaces because of all the kicking he gets.

  • Comment number 11.

    Messi + La Masia = Legendary Player
    Don't think he is the best ever, yet. Could go on to hold that crown, but something I would really like to see is how he would handle himself in another team, or in another league-it doesn't necessarily have to be Stoke.
    If you spend so long with another group of players then its inevitable that you build up chemistry with some, and I think this is really what is contributing to Messi's goal rates.
    If you take Cristiano Ronaldo, he is in a team also full of world class passers but without the same cohesion as Barcelona have, yet he has still kept up with Messi. Also Cristiano proved he is adaptable to different environments, he came to two different world-class leagues (EPL and La Liga), and shone. He may not shine so bright in Spain but that is because the media tend to put him in the shadow of Messi-justified or not, that is the case.

    I would like to draw your attention to the Phenomenon, a player who broke La Liga goal records in his first and only year, in a worse team than this Barcelona iteration, all at the tender age of 20. Yes 20. He also won FIFA World Player of the Year then too, still the youngest player to have done so.
    What impressed me about Ronaldo is that he went to Holland, Italy, and Spain, played for all the biggest clubs (PSV, Internationale, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona), and lit up each respective club and league.
    Country Apps Goals

    Brazil 113 79
    Netherlands 57 54
    Spain 226 151
    Italy 119 68

    That is truly astonishing, for a player whose career was marred by injury, a player who by consensus never fulfilled his potential, he went to every league and shone. When somebody talks about hacking it in a different league, in a different team, this is surely what they mean.

    Anyway, Good luck to Barcelona on Saturday, but being a United supporter I can only hope that Messi fails to shine. :)
    Or he can shine if the game isn't won, I'm not too picky :)

  • Comment number 12.

    "If you spend so long with another group of players then its inevitable that you build up chemistry with some, and I think this is really what is contributing to Messi's goal rates."
    By the way, I'm not saying that Messi isn't a good striker already, he is capable of fantastic individual goals, but the team often hands him goals on a silver platter and vice versa.

  • Comment number 13.

    there is no question that messi is the best player in the world . i reckon it is only a matter of time before he becomes the best ever. i reckon he is all but there now.

  • Comment number 14.

    And if United win on Saturday his era (say the past 4 seasons) has been overshadowed Utd in terms of both domestic and European titles.

    Messi is great tho, but the media love-in has to stop

    You are practically giving the trophy to Barca before a ball has been kicked

  • Comment number 15.

    He is the best player I have ever seen although I am young. I have never seen a player who can control the ball like he does and he seems to beat players with ease. I prefer him to C.Ronaldo, Messi has always been near the top from such a young age with so many plaudits, C. Ronaldo seemed to only start getting many the season after the 2006 World Cup. All in my opinion.

  • Comment number 16.

    To Teiam #9 - anyone who considers Real Madrid a weak side needs their head examined. Ronaldo has been exceptional this season but part of that is because he's the focal point of their team, much like Messi is for Barcelona.

    I hear the argument that Messi has not yet matched Maradona's greatness because he has not had comparable success at international level. I personally think that argument is cobblers, in part because I think Messi's club achievements already outshine Maradona's, and also because Argentina have not found the best way to use him. Balancing a team like Argentina's is a challenge in itself, but since Batista seems to be building them into an imitation Barcelona, you never know.

    For what it's worth, I thought Messi played well at the World Cup - he didn't score but got four assists. He couldn't well do much about his team's collapse against Germany. Unfortunately, his 'problem' is that if he doesn't score, people start questioning him for some reason - but look beyond the goals. He has way more assists than Ronaldo this season and played a major part in setting up many more goals than that. That's what sets Messi apart from Ronaldo for me, the team player attitude.

  • Comment number 17.

    Messi > Ronaldo. Both great players though but Messi will go down as the greatest.

  • Comment number 18.

    Anyone one that doubts Lionel Messi's ability is clearly crazy. He single handely beat one of the riches teams in the world in Real Madrid. His second goal was utterly sensational. You say he needs to prove himself on the big stage yet at 23 he's inspired Barcelona to 3 La Liga titles and a Champions League title. No one is doubting C.Ronaldo's talent but when was the last time he shone on the big stage? if anything it is C.Ronaldo who needs to be the focal point in the team and scored against the lesser teams. I have seen Messi play against C.Ronaldo at least 6 times, and bar the spanish cup final Messi has outshone Ronaldo ever single time.

    Agree with post 11 thought. Ronaldo will go down as a great and would probably be classed the best ever had it not been for major injuries.

  • Comment number 19.

    Messi? Barca's B team can rip United apart. this is after all a sub standard Man Utd team. how can a team with Fletcher and Carrick in be expected to beat Barca? it will be atleast 3-0.

  • Comment number 20.

    LOL @ Alan Hansen trying to compare Messi and Rooney in the other blog! Messi is on a different level. 'the white pele' has a long way to go before he can be mentioned in the same sentence as Messi.

  • Comment number 21.

    Messi has taken it to another level this season. Statistically his end product is staggering, 52 goals and 24 assists in a single season within the modern era is phenomenal. And it's not just the quantity, it's the quality too. Great individual goals, excellent passing in tight spaces, clever playmaking, a delicate touch and unrivalled dribbling. All combined in a fairly unselfish package to produce one of the best all-round attackers of the last 20-30 years.

    I think - provided he can keep up this level of performance and success for another few years - he will go down as the greatest ever. I don't claim to have seen all the greatest players in history in action, but football has progressed since the 50s and 60s, goals per game have dropped as defences have tightened, and it's now more difficult to deliver such figures than it was back then. For that reason I think Messi's performance levels are even more impressive than the likes of Pele, di Stefano, Cruijff etc.

    Why do Ronaldo fans always seem to pop up in blogs about Messi?

    A previous comment said he's carried Real. Please. Out of the 53 goals he scored this season, only 11 of them actually gave Real the lead at any stage in a match (that's the same number as Benzema; Messi in comparison has scored 21 leading goals). 26 of those goals were actually scored when Real were already 2 or more goals ahead. Carrying? More like riding on the crest of a wave.

    I was far more impressed with Ronaldo in his fantastic 07/08 season with Man Utd (last year too). That year, he consistently proved to be a match-winner for his side.

  • Comment number 22.

    How privileged we are to live in this era watching Messi and Ronaldo. For me, Messi is better as he's not just about goals, he's about tons of assists too but Ronaldo is very worthy of an all-time list. I just think Messi is the greatest footballer that ever lived, I have no doubt about it.

  • Comment number 23.

    doesn't anyone consider laudrup one of the best. Granted i've only seen highlights but he seemed to outmatch messi in many departments

  • Comment number 24.

    i fell sorry for folk who believe ronaldo is a better player, i truly do. so glad my brain works different. why dont u figure out why ronaldo will never be on his level. i have many a reason.

  • Comment number 25.

    he does not have to win a world cup? why? do you not see wot he has been doing for the past 4-5 years in spain and champs league. really get a grip wi this world cup nonsense it's becoming more of a non event. wot he has shown so far for me he is at the top, ronaldo comes nowhere near the type of goals and play this kid does. jeez u'd think folk have no eye's to see the difference. only thing they have in common is goals and messi's have proved far more valuable at the right times and games that matter.

  • Comment number 26.

    as good as he is, he relies heavily on the supply from Xavi an Iniesta. Would love to see if he could cut it in another team, especially in the EPL, i doubt it though. Cant cut it when the chips are down or against a team that are organised as shown over the 2 legs against Inter last season and at the WC.

  • Comment number 27.

    You run out of superlatives to describe him, i mean he is only 23 and in every season since 2006 he has scored more goals than the amount of games that he has played in, and in every one of those seasons he has scored over 35 goals. And still i find people saying that we are getting over-hyped about this phenomenon, but they are the jealous english supporters who can't take the fact that they don't have anyone in the country as good as messi, if anyone had anywhere near messi's goal rate we would not hear the end of it and the fact is that messi isn't even a striker, he just roams about and finds space. But what stands out about his performance that i don't really think gets mentioned enough in britian anyway are his goals and his finishing, when one-on-one he never panics and always scores and both him and ronaldo have been absolutely unstoppable and i do feel sorry for ronaldo because if he had been in england then he would get alot more recognition from the british press. But messi will be the best player in the world if he carries on like this and barcelona will become one of the most successful teams in the world. That is why i am really hoping that they go out on the pitch on saturday and teach man utd a lesson and completely play them off the park, i am predicting a 3-0 win and hopefully messi will shut up any critics who have doubts which shows how jealous they are and just like he did in 2009 hopefully he will shut up all the doubters in the press and in the stands.

  • Comment number 28.

    Ronaldo would be the greatest player of any era/generation. He's so unlucky he has grown up under the shadow of a potential best player ever.

  • Comment number 29.

    Could he do it on a rainy night in Stoke though?

  • Comment number 30.

    11, too right mate ronaldo is my all time fav player and his injury angers me, had it not been for that injury i'd be saying messi is close to ronaldo as the all time best in my view.

  • Comment number 31.

    #29

    Not much anyone could do on a rainy night in Stoke!!

  • Comment number 32.

    and when i see comments like "can he do it on a rainy night in stoke?" i laugh at how slow some brains have evolved. these folk clearly need to change sport or somehow gain a better understanding.

  • Comment number 33.

    History has proven, you have to win a World Cup to be considered a top legend. Pele and Maradona always lead those roundabout arguments, Zidane and Cruyff (who came so close) also. If Messi could win one, I dare say on Brazilian soil might be his best chance, then he'll be in that group.

  • Comment number 34.

    Messi is, by a distance, the best player in the world ad a joy to watch. It isn't just the never-ending talent on display but also a pleasant, down to earth character in him.
    It is always possible to deal with one player, no matter how good he is, in today's football but, in Barcelona, it is also the Xavi / Iniesta duo, plus others.

    Still, Barcelona have two faces: one at home and one away. The final is at Wembley and I'm expecting a Manchester United win, with a lot of people go hiding, eating their words, after the final, with Gary Lineker top of the tops in this list.

  • Comment number 35.

    32 - normally these comments come from stoke fans who infact play a different sport. its a mix of kick boxing and rugby.

  • Comment number 36.

    @ 33, BigGiantHead,

    History doesn't prove anything such. Johan Cruyff has been one of those players you call 'best player in the world without a doubt', but yet Holland didn't win it.

  • Comment number 37.

    Why do we always feel the need to single out one player and label him as 'the best in the world' when there is so much more to our beautiful game than one individual in every team performance? Messi is a fantastic player but so too are his team mates, they all contribute with their individual committment to make the team and, ultimately, each other great. We always seem to single out the prolific goal scorers and put them on a pedestal above the rest of the players.

    Sir Alex won't be obsessive about finding ways to stop Messi, he will be concentrating on the sort of team tactics only great managers are capable of conjuring in order to overcome the Catalonians. His game plan will include his intentions to deny eleven world class Barcelona men collectively, so the focus of debate must surely surround the speculation concerning how this can be achieved. Team tactics is the most fascinating aspect of the game, we can talk about how great Messi's contribution was after the final, whether his team lift the most coveted trophy on the planet or not.

    One person ridicules Alan Hansen for comparing Messi with Rooney but at least he has attempted to analyse a possible formation and the sort of tactics Sir Alex will instill in his team. I find this aspect of football far more interesting than congratulating a player on being a cut above the rest and believing the result at the final whistle rests upon the shoulders of one individual.

    Enjoy the match and all the world class performers involved!

  • Comment number 38.

    #Mr Stevenson

    I always like reading about great players, but this blog's a bit hollow. I think everybody is aware of how good Messi is. Why doesn't this blog focus on where Messi and Barca can find holes in the Man Utd team, or what Man U have to do to win?

    After watching football properly for around 15 years, I think that Messi is the first 'great' that I've had the honour of watching live, rather than in videos. It is truly mesmerising watching him, the ball just sticks to his feet! The second goal he scored in the first leg of the semi against Real was just top quality, especially considering the game was absolutely dire.

    I don't think that Ronaldo feels too sorry for himself, he's had a whale of a time too. Another outstanding player, 2nd greatest player in the world currently by a country mile.

  • Comment number 39.

    Read this earlier:

    'But what i think really gives Ronaldo the edge is that he has the ability to carry teams through a game, if Real Madrid aren't playing well then you can expect Ronaldo to pop up and steal the 3 points for them. Something he did for Man utd many times. Messi, i think, is more prone to going down with his team (though it is rare Barcelona play badly in the first place) and if Barcelona weren't playing well, i'd look to the likes of Xavi and Iniesta to really step it up and pull the other team apart. '


    Total, total rubbish. I know this is outdated as it was taken from much earlier in the season, but this trend has certainly continued:

    'Messi goes missing when the going gets tough while Ronaldo thrives in that sort of situation ... yet Messi has scored far more decisive goals this season while Ronaldo has been busy adding gloss to matches that have already been won.

    In games this season, Messi has given his side the lead 11 times and scored 2 equalisers. Ronaldo has given his side the lead only 4 times and scored 0 equalisers. Ronaldo has scored 10 goals when his side is already two goals up. Messi in comparison has only scored 4 such goals. It's clear that if you want someone to swing a game in your favour, Messi's your guy. If you want someone to boost your goal difference, Ronaldo's the man.'


  • Comment number 40.

    Kit - as Birmingham are now relegated is your opinion on the top leagues still valid?!

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 43.

    I cant believe people are saying Messi "needs to play in a different league to prove himself"!

    He has been top scorer in the best league in the world for the past three seasons, THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE. He has scored 4 goals against one of the best teams in England in the process and a header against the so called best defence in the Europe in the Champions League Final.

    But according to armchair experts, if he came up against the more physical EPL teams with players like Phil Bardsley, he would definetly flop.

    Dont diss the wee man, he deserves the accolades.

  • Comment number 44.

    wal_sol

    yes, i give in, my comments are not valid. and you do successfully wind me up, well done.

  • Comment number 45.

    Personally I'm sick of all this drooling over Messi. Sure he's good, along with Ronaldo those two are by far and away the best players in the world right now but one of the greats of all time, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Where was he during both legs of the CL semi against Inter last season, where was he in the quarter finals of the WC against Germany? To me he's not even on par with Zidane yet, let alone Maradona/Pele/Cruyff. Until he does something special on the international arena (and for South American teams that usually means the World Cup) I won't count him along side the giants of the game. He doesn't have to win the thing but at least produce something special in an Argentina jersey when it counts.

  • Comment number 46.

    Johan Cruyff, in an interview to The Times, today, states something about Barcelona's game in "make the pitch look small when you defend and big when you attack".

    I'm really curious how Barcelona will display these two elements in their game, on Saturday. In Manchester United, they have an opponent who's not as good as them in the passing game but able to play their game at speed and lethal in counter attack. The goal Xavier Hernandez scored against Chelsea, at Old Trafford belongs to that collection in scoring in about 8", getting back the ball from defense.

    In my opinion, it will be very important who will score first. If Barcelona score, they can kill the game and perhaps score again. If United score, Barcelona players might be impatient and uncertain in the knowledge that they'll have to find solutions while playing against one of the best sides in counter attacking football in the world. Manchester United are still the underdog but the final is at Wembley.

  • Comment number 47.


    For everyone who watches the games, Xavi and Iniesta have been almost every bit as influential as Messi for the past 3 seasons in their respective positions.

    The press is doing these players a massive disservice and disrespect by concentrating on the headline-grabbing "superstar" (maybe to bring him down later?)



  • Comment number 48.

    #witness2gr8ness

    how hard to please are you?! have you seen the statistics? have you watched him play?

    yes you've got a valid point about a few of the big games where arguably he hasn't been that decisive, but 9 out of 10 times that isn't the case. the point is he's only 23, so much time to develop.

    can't you give him a bit of credit? come on, how many players do we have like that in the premier league? walters of stoke is working on it, but he's not quite good enough

  • Comment number 49.

    @ 47, nibs,

    if United's threat was Messi, the game plan would be relatively simple for SAF. It is Xavi and Iniesta that complicate matters, plus others, like Afellay, who's a very quick, quality winger, David Villa who's as lethal as Rooney in a good day, plus others.

  • Comment number 50.

    One of the greatest assets of Messi is, combined with a great scoring ability is a great goal creating ability to go with it. He is a dream player to have.

  • Comment number 51.

    FootballUK

    Does it make you a bit more optimistic that Villa has scored 3 goals in his last 18 matches?

  • Comment number 52.

    Ronaldo once said, "I was sent by the Footballing God to teach the world how to play football"

    When asked Messi Replied "I dont recall teaching him anything"

  • Comment number 53.

    And that he hasn't scored in his last 5 CL matches?

  • Comment number 54.

    MESSI IS OVER RATED
    RONALDOS BEEN WELL BETTER THIS SEASON

  • Comment number 55.

    52, im sure messi said " i never sent anyone". quality

  • Comment number 56.

    People who back Ronaldo as the greater player always say he's a "more complete player" due to his aerial ability. However I feel these people are clowns.

    I remember a rather important match 2 years ago that pitted these emerging "greats" directly against each other. lil' Messi scored with his head - showing that movement and intelligence are an adequate substitute for height and power.

    For me this settled the argument.

    Messi is the best around.

  • Comment number 57.

    if you think ronlado, for even a second of his over-hyped carrier, is better than messi. You are sadly wrong. Il tell you why...

    Messi is a superb footballer, like ronaldo. However he was the same pace & better dribbling - He is a class act, a gentleman and a god!
    The way he goes about his game is phenomenal for a modern day footballing superstar.

    Can i remind you of the ronaldo that warranted the £80m to Real Madrid. Not the tricks or the pace or the freekicks. The winking, smug, arrogant diving, cheating play acting ronaldo who won about 30points for united over the 07-09 campaigns.
    Messi is a true footballer.

    And is already equaled Pele, Cruyff, Marradona etc... in terms of skills & pure raw ability. He has Bags of vision & intelligence like the aforementioned three and he has more to come.

    There is talk of sides bringing best out of players, e.i rooney at manchester united, ronaldo at real, snjieder & etoo at inter. Messi bring the best out of barcelona as a team and out of other team mates around him.

    Im rather young, but i have seen videos of the greats;, best, cryuff, garinche, zico, maradona, pele, stoichkov, romario, henry etc...and i have been amazed, but never bemused or shocked even confused. Until i watched messi? its true what was written, he makes the impossible possible, truly a magician in every sense of the word...a modern day houdini, except his stage is on the turf not the halls.

    Absolute class! Messi -12/10 Pele -10/10 Ronaldo -9/10

  • Comment number 58.

    @48

    As it turns out I am hard to please. I have read the stats and seen him play, I'm not saying he won't go down as one of the greatest but I'm just not putting him up there just yet.

    I am probably being harsh on the guy but it's tempered by all this ridiculous fawning over him. Look at the group game against Greece at the WC, he did nothing for most of the game, then when Greece are 2-0 down in a game they have to win they decide to open up, he goes on a scorching run, hits the post and was later described on the news as being in "sparkling form", I kid you not. No other player in the world can go 80 odd minutes of doing nothing in a game, hit the post and then be described in such a way. I'm surprise he doesn't have his own 'Messi Facts' website ala Chuck Norris.



  • Comment number 59.

    51.
    At 11:17 25th May 2011, Kit wrote:

    FootballUK

    Does it make you a bit more optimistic that Villa has scored 3 goals in his last 18 matches?

    --------------------------------------------------

    No it doesn't. As a United fan I can give you the best example: Rooney scored the goal of the season while still not at his best. Villa is top quality and, given an opportunity

  • Comment number 60.

    #59 (continued)

    Villa is top quality and, given an opportunity, he's threat no1 in front of van Der Sar's goal.

  • Comment number 61.

    Quite happy with Chicarito thanks. You'll see. :-)

  • Comment number 62.

    Let's just hope Messi stays injury free, because give him another 2-3 years playing like he is now, he will go down as the undisputed greatest ever. As it is he doesnt quite qualify due to the longevity that Pele had. As for Ronaldo who has popped up a lot in this discussion.. He could well go down as one of the greats, but the best ever looks unlikely.

  • Comment number 63.

    I dont remember best, pele, cheater (sorry maradona) etc etc.. but this guy is ridiculous! easily the best player I've ever seen by a country mile. It's like Football porn when watching this bloke!

  • Comment number 64.

    @54 MESSI IS OVERRATED.... HAHA clown

  • Comment number 65.

    I agree that Messi is the best around, Ronaldo is close though, I mean you can't deny that he has also got more then 50 goals as well. There is too much hype over Messi, when you consider that Barca have got players like Xavi, Villa, Iniesta (who in my opinion, on his day is just as good as Messi). Of course Messi isn't the greatest, he has got a long way to go, and needs to play better for Argentina. He has certainly got the potential to though. Zidane, in my opinion is the best. Ronaldo could have been, if injuries didn't ruin him. I personally think Barca will win Saturday because there is too much hype about it being at Wembley, the same place as United's win in '68. Certainly united have got a chance though

  • Comment number 66.

    #16 said:
    "I hear the argument that Messi has not yet matched Maradona's greatness because he has not had comparable success at international level. I personally think that argument is cobblers, in part because I think Messi's club achievements already outshine Maradona's............."

    What a comment! I'd like to see Messi play for a team like Napoli and do what Maradona did at Napoli.

  • Comment number 67.

    I have too, many times argued with friends over who is better. But to be honest like anything else fantastic in life things should sometimes be appreciated for what they are. Why do we always have to compare? I think it is disrespectful to both players. It's like asking if you prefer a holiday to New York or Madrid? Both would be excellent in their own right. I am just greatful that I have the chance in my lifetime to see these 2 talented players. It's been interesting to read these comments but comeon guys you are killing this topic.

  • Comment number 68.

    @66 I'd like to see it too....and he could! the bloke is a genius, not his fault he plays for the best club in Europe!

  • Comment number 69.

    I lost football years ago, not bothered about watching a game at all - unless Messi is involved. I will go out of my way to see a game he is playing in.

    Unbelievable skill and strength. And so yound still too!

    I fear someone will try and take him out every time - I hope his career isn't marred by injury. Let us enjoy him for the next ten years.

  • Comment number 70.

    When will people have the intelligence to move away from these playground level debates, there is no such thing as the greatest player or team of all time, there’s only the best from each generation and even judging within a generation is subjective.

    Also, to all those who think Messi is unquestionably the “best ever,” I’m taking it that you guys have come to your conclusion based on your unrivalled knowledge of watching every great player, week in, week out, through the history of game? Or, are you just forming your opinion based on watching Messi every week on Sky and some of Pele, Maradona and the other so called greats on YouTube?

    Ask yourselves, does media exposure, clever marketing or club and country bias have anything to do with your opinions on Messi?

    You people can’t be basing your opinions on facts, there’s none to back up your statement. Even those damn lies and statistics don’t support your claims.

    What about ability? - Should we consider Messi’s right foot weakness, average ability in the air, hit and miss free-kick taking and lack of world cup pedigree as a counter argument to his status as the greatest of them all?

    Should we also consider how much more complete the likes of Di Stefano, Cruyff and Pele were by comparison?

    Or, are you willing to except the reality, that there really is no way of fairly comparing one generation to the next?

  • Comment number 71.

    @70 ... Get out of bed on the wrong side this morning.

    These debates are just that...debates! everyone has and is entitled to express their opinion and do just that! Most peoples opinions are on who they have watched over the years and form their opinion on their personal recollections of said players.

    If these unintelligent playground debates are indeed pointless then why are you here?

    Personally I think the greatest player of all time is me....FACT! ;)

  • Comment number 72.

    @70... Following on

    If we didn't have these debates on best goal, player, team, was it off side/wasn't it, was it a red card, foul, yellow etc... all the fun would be taken out of it. This is exactly why we all love the beautiful game!

  • Comment number 73.

    Ronaldo is at the same level of Messi no doubt about that, they are both phenomonal.

  • Comment number 74.

    @70, good job the world isnt full of people like you, othersie it would be a very boring world.

    Messi is without doubt the best player in the world today, only time will tell if he will become an all time great. Takes more than 3 years to prove that.

  • Comment number 75.

    Chelsea are going to destroy barca in the final

  • Comment number 76.

    too simplify it for me i would have messi in my team before any other past or present, regardless if i havent seen the likes of di stefano etc.......i dont think i need to have seen the others play to sway my opinion to be honest. although iv seen as much as there is to see available of the other greats.

  • Comment number 77.

    great blog about Messi, repeat MESSI

    why are some people unable to discuss football without centering every single topic on the EPL or Man Utd?

  • Comment number 78.

    @77, Strange isn't it how British people might relate a blog about Messi to the EPL and Man Utd. Even stranger when the blog was written because of that fact. Some people hey....

  • Comment number 79.

    @75 Chelsea are going to destroy Barca in the final....LOL :)

  • Comment number 80.

    Just read the post that compared Messi to Michael Jordan!!!! Am I looged on to "Over-reactor's anonymous" by mistake?!!
    Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest sportsman of all time. Once Messi dominates football for 10 years and breaks every record in the book, then maybe we could consider this as a potential debate - maybe!

    In terms of now - he's nowhere near the greates ever - he isnt even the greatest of my generation (I'm talking 90's and 00's). That honour goes to THE Ronaldo closely followed by Zidane (although I am of the opinion that Ronaldo should be considered in the best of all time debate very seriously). Once Messi achieves what those 2 have, then we can start to look at Pele/Maradona comparisons.
    Just for refence, Ronaldo was doing what Messi is now before he was 20!

  • Comment number 81.

    Anyone who thinks Ronaldo is better than Messi either just doesn't get football or is so stoicly English.

    Ronaldo is a great player, but Messi is in a league of one.

    Ronaldo cannot do it everytime unlike Messi.

    Messi plays for the team, Ronaldo plays for himself. And even then, Messi is a better individual player. If Messi played the game as selfishly as Ronaldo, I'm sure he'd get even more goals. But then, you'd take away his assists - the quality of which are such that they are as good as goals.

    52 + 26 = 78. 78 goals that Messi has directly contributed to this season.

    Ronaldo is measured in goals alone these days. In output. People who bang the Ronaldo drum can only look at that. Because his general play isn't dazzling, the number of key passes he makes are nowhere near Messi's, and he cannot drag his team out of the mud in tough games like Messi can, and Messi has shown.

    Messi 1



    Ronaldo 2



    The Rest 3 and beyond.

  • Comment number 82.

    10.
    At 08:24 25th May 2011, waldovski wrote:

    If there is one thing to nitpick about Messi's game it's his movement off the ball. It is truly terrible, and it is either because of his largely individual skillset or because he has subliminally stopped running into open spaces because of all the kicking he gets.

    ___________________________-

    Worst comment of the first 10 so far.
    I'll keep scouring.

  • Comment number 83.

    There is no point in trying to deny that Messi is one of the greatest players today....I still think its too early to compare him to Maradonna, Cruyff or Pele but that will come.

    George Best anyone.....?

    I remember Pele saying that George was better than him..top acolade!

  • Comment number 84.

    @82 Completely agree! Firstly watching on TV you can not really tell. And secondly it's complete rubbish! Perhaps waldovski should try watching a game

  • Comment number 85.

    #82 - how much time do you have. ;-) lol

    Messi's terrible off the ball movement - it's a new one though in fairness. At least people are being orignal with their rubbish.

  • Comment number 86.

    When Messi plays he plays for his team, Ronaldo plays for Ronaldo and no one else.
    Messi is by far a classier player and by that i mean more class as a sportsman.
    He doesn't look for the referee on his way to the floor after being tackled and waving his arms about like a spoilt child.
    I can think of a few players better than Ronaldo but not too many better than Messi

  • Comment number 87.

    It might be a bit early to start crowning him the all-time King of Football, but he's definitely taking leaps in the right direction.

    Let's just hope that he doesn't have to suffer many more tackles in his career like the one against Atletico Madrid earlier this season which earned Ujfalusi a straight red card. We don't want to see a model professional like Messi unable to end his career on his own terms.

    I think the criticism Cristiano Ronaldo receives is unfair, mostly because if there was no Messi, he would be the best player in the world right now. Sure, he may not be the most humble player around, but that does not stop him being one of the best.

  • Comment number 88.

    80

    i posted earlier saying the same about ronaldo, if he never got that injury he would have wiped the floor with evryone, his injury took 20% out his game i reckon and he was still unreal.

  • Comment number 89.

    Messi's movement has to be one of the best in football otherwise he wouldn't be able to recieve the ball in the positions he does. No player can score so many goals with average movement, nevermind terrible. The reason Barcelona as a team are such a great side is down to their movement and ability to open up defenses with it. God help United or any team if Messi learns how to find space of the ball.

  • Comment number 90.

    It's frightening to think how good Lionel Messi will be in 2/3 years.

    There are so many reasons why I feel he is the best player in the world right now but I think the main one is his dedication to the game and to Barcelona. As impressive as his goal scoring is, it's even more impressive how many appearances he has made in the past 3 seasons. He always wants to play, even if it's a champions league group game against some unknown European side...he always wants to play and always wants to score. His hunger for the game is what makes him the best.

  • Comment number 91.

    #88. Glad we're on the same page at last after yesterday. ;-) lol.

    Yeah, even after 2 or 3 injuries, he was only at about 50% of his full ability level, and he still won and top scored in a WC!

    And actually thinking about it, I'm really glad the couple of injuries Messi had 3/4 years ago havent affected him - he could have gone down the Fabregas route that happens to a numbe rof young players who start getting injuries at a young age(can only manage half a season fit), but he has come back even better and is still improving. As with all good players, lets hope his fitness continues and we can continue to enjoy his play.

  • Comment number 92.

    #83 NI_SoFu

    George Best anyone.....?

    I remember Pele saying that George was better than him..top acolade!
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Yes, but that could easily be a bit of modesty on Pele's part. Also, who was the audience for this quote? Pele is quite polite, perhaps too much so, so it is possible that this comment was good for the questioner.

  • Comment number 93.

    #91 Nevs_A_Red

    The Fabregas route at the moment appears to be where you think you are better than everyone around you, and that they should play to your every whim.

    If Barcelona were that special to him, why did he leave them?

  • Comment number 94.

    There is no such thing as a "best player in the world". I wish people would stop using the phrase.

    How can you compare the qualities of Messi to Casillas?... How can you compare Ronaldo to Vidic?

    At the very least, you have to say the best attacking player, the best defensive player and the best goalkeeper of a generation/all time.

    Everyone gravitates to the attacker because it is so much easier to quantify... but as a sports journalist (a good one at that) you should help dispel this myth of attacking footballers always being the greatest.

    It would be so refreshing to see a BBC blog about the outstanding partnership that is Rio/Vidic or the hugely important role that Busquets has in the Barca line up.

  • Comment number 95.

    Has Park got 19 cousins?

  • Comment number 96.

    #93, lol. But havent you heard, he's the best midfielder in the World?! Well....at least thats what a lot of Arsenal fans tell me anyway. :)

    #94 - I like your point, and it is the same as the greatest team debate going on yesterday - you cant compare. However, a central defender can't usually change a game on a regular basis - there's a limit to what they can do in terms of winning a game, whereas an attacking player can have far more game changing contributions, far more often.

  • Comment number 97.

    91

    healthy debate mate that's all it was. lol

    it was when i seen messi's hattrick v madrid when he was 17 i think, i knew this was the player that comes round every 15 year or so. he proved me right and more.

  • Comment number 98.

    #90 toolpwn

    you cite Messi's dedication to Barcelona as a positive. Let's be honest, how hard is it to be committed to the greatest team in the world? i think dedication is where you stay with your team through the good and the bad, not just the amazing

  • Comment number 99.

    A few years back I spent five days sitting in a film archive in Sao Paulo looking through old footage of Pele. Like Messi, the ball just seemed to stick to Pele's feet. In one Brazil v Soviet Union match, Pele rang rings around the defenders, three of whom ended up on their backsides. Believe me when I say that Pele was every bit as good as Maradona and that one day Messi will be revered alongside them although he may have to win the World Cup to be finally accepted as their equals...

  • Comment number 100.

    I would say Messi is the best player in the world at the moment and by quite a distance. He is not only a good forward player, but he can play as good in the midfield as Xavi an Iniesta. I have feeling Messi could be one of the greatest players never to win a world cup, Argentina has great attacking players but their defence leaves little to be desired. You saw in the last world cup that even though he didn't score, Messi involved in almost all their goals, Even Palermo pounced on a messi shot off the post.

    But the thing about Barca as a whole is, they have 11 great players, Look at Pedro and Busqeuts, you would easily forget them but they both contribute massively for Barca and if Man united focus too much on Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Villa, they are going to find them selves in trouble when Pedro pops up as he often does.

 

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