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Messi the perfect combination

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Tim Vickery | 13:05 UK time, Monday, 30 May 2011

It is too soon to know where he is going to end up in the pantheon, but Lionel Messi's performance on Saturday ensures beyond all doubt that he belongs among the all time greats.

Watching him scale the heights has given me particular pleasure because I had the good fortune to be there at the start of the journey, the moment when he first appeared before a mass public.

The event was the South American Under-20 Championships, staged in Colombia at the start of 2005.

Lionel Messi before the 2011 Champions League Final

Messi has shown he can flourish in European football. Photo: Getty

Messi had already been with Barcelona for four years, had played one friendly in the first team and there were rumours that he might be something special. But he was barely known in Argentina, who called him up with the aim of having a look at him - he was, for example, not given the symbolic number 10 shirt.

He looked unimpressive as he took the field, small, pale and shambling. But as soon as he was on the ball all of us there knew we were witnessing something special.

He was only 17, a couple of years younger than almost everyone else, and he found the competition's gruelling calendar hard going.

But the talent was unmistakable. As Diego Maradona commented, Messi's close control is so abnormally good that he can run with the ball while watching TV - he has now reached a level where could probably change the channels as well.

As well as his slalom dribbles, back in 2005 Messi was already showcasing his ability to cut in on the diagonal, exchanging beautifully weighted give-and-go passes. He looked like a sure fit for global stardom.

But there are always causes for concern, forks in the road where potential can go astray.

I well recall being in Paraguay for the 1999 Copa America when 16-year-old Jhonnier Montano scored a cracking goal against Argentina. He was so full of talent, and cut such a composed figure in the post-match media conference, that he gave the impression of being another dead cert.

But it never happened for him. After a spell in Turkey he is now heading back to Peru, the country where he has enjoyed a touch of success in recent years.

It is better than nothing, but measured against his promise, it is as if his career has turned into a line from "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" - the one about "all the stars who never were [who] are parking cars and pumping gas."

Clearly, part of Montano's problem was the premature move to Europe. Parma bought him, then loaned him here and loaned him there. The clubs who took him were fighting against relegation and had no stake in his development, so opportunities were few and momentum became non existent. His weight ballooned, his mind wandered and he fell by the wayside.

This, then, was my fear for Messi back in 2005 - that being at Barcelona might make it hard for him to get a regular game. I need not have worried. Before the end of the year he was a household name.

In fact, moving across the Atlantic so early almost certainly proved to be an advantage in his case. He went through the entire process of adolescence in Barcelona. It was where he developed as a man and as a team player.

But his footballing identity, his skill in one-against-one situations - this had already been formed in Rosario. Messi, then, has developed into a perfect synthesis of the Argentine kick-about and the Barcelona academy.

Those South Americans who make the move a few years later, like Montano, face added risks. Eighteen, for example, is a time of changes - especially for footballers, who in behavioural terms tend to go through adolescence later then their contemporaries.

It is a time of life that can be disorientating enough, without the added complication of experiencing it in a foreign culture. Throw in the difficulties of adapting to a different type of football, and it is little wonder that there are casualties.

But the road to the top is always rocky, no matter what path is chosen. Staying at home a few extra years has its advantages, but also its potential pitfalls. There are first-team opportunities in a familiar environment - the flipside of the coin is the relative ease with which premature reputations can be constructed.

It is just over two years since I first saw Neymar in the flesh. Recently turned 17, he came off the bench for the last few minutes with his Santos team leading Fluminense 2-1. By the end it was 4-1.

He set one up with a gorgeous, defence-splitting pass, and the other came from a rebound after the keeper failed to hold his shot. In between the two, his dribbling skills forced a red card for the Fluminense right back. It was a sensational seven minutes. Before long he was being proclaimed as a phenomenon and there were calls for his inclusion in last year's World Cup squad.

The problem here is that domestic Brazilian football dances to its own beat. The defensive lines play deep, so there is space on the field. Today's referees will give fouls for anything and diving is tolerated - a scenario which fills the dribbler with confidence. Take him out of the protective bubble and it can be a different story - Robinho is a perfect example, a player whose fighting spirit seems to shrink in front of your eyes when he does not get the fouls he used to be awarded in Brazil.

The problem here is that Neymar is a child of the contemporary criteria of Brazilian referees, a fruit of the poisoned tree. I have never seen a player who dives so often and so theatrically. This is clearly an impediment in his quest to reach the level of play that Lionel Messi showed on Saturday, and there is another one.

Neymar in action for Santos

Neymar still has work to do on his game. Photo: Reuters

The Boy Prince of the Brazilian game, there is something of the spoilt brat about Neymar. He can scream and shout when he does not get his way, and also lose his focus. Against Argentina, in the big game of the recent South American Under-20 Championships, he was too busy diving and arguing to play much football.

But this is a work in progress. The current Copa Libertadores campaign could go down as the moment when the boy prince shows that he is prepared to become king.

This week Santos hope to book their place in the final. In the last few games Neymar has shown less petulance, done less diving and played some wonderful stuff - gliding past his marker on either side, showing vision and intelligence plus his trademark cool finishing.

He is a special talent. The tests are going to get tougher as he moves up, but his journey will be well worth following. If everything falls into place, if he can keep learning and adapting, then he might be able to shine on the stage that Lionel Messi lit up on Saturday.
 
Please leave comments on the piece in the space provided. Send questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:
 
Q) I was wondering what happened to the Brazilian winger Mancini? I remember him doing very well at Roma, but he seems to have disappeared after a bad spell at Inter Milan?
Arthur Li

A) He's back in Brazil with Atletico Mineiro. He's had a bizarre career. He was a promising but error-prone, unconfident right back until suddenly exploding as a goalscoring threat in 2002 with Atletico. He then moved off to Italy, where he was reinvented as a wide attacker, had some glory years, was briefly in the Brazil squad, and then he fell back again.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Same thing happened with Radamel Falcao. He went to Argentina when he was 14 and went through the same process as Messi. In Colombia is common say that is better for the players who excel in the colombian league to go first to Argentina as a way to perfect certain aspects of their game but most of all to improve their psychological side, to make them stronger mentally. If they can make it in Argentina, then they will be ready to make their way to Europe. As Falcao went as a pre-teen to Argentina, he has the argentinian mentality of the game, which is good for the Colombia national side, in my opinion.

  • Comment number 2.

    Ronaldo was quite good, moved to PSV when 17.
    I think the issue is the expectations of young players now. Before, a good South American youth would have a couple years or so in his home country, then move off to Europe.
    Nowadays, its almost a race to Europe

  • Comment number 3.

    Does Messi play on an Argentinian passport with EU residency? If so do you think we'll see such match-up's with English clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City) where young players are scooped up on shorter-term development contracts to ensure if they're good by 21 then they're England-qualified on residence so the clubs can go out on buy non-EU players?

  • Comment number 4.

    There are two major questions I get from this article is: Can Neymar become as good as Messi? That's an unanswerable question at the moment but I'd say, yes he can. He'll have to go through a lot and then there's the issue of removing the more..."excessive" parts of his game from his playing style.

    But I'm sure he can become as good as Messi, the other question I get is: What is Messi's peak? Football is perhaps the most dynamic sport in the world, stranger things have happened than a phenomenal talent suddenly fading away. Is this Messi at his best? Or does the Boy Wonder have more to show, that's I question that I think that'll only be answerable with time.

  • Comment number 5.

    selecao in the strange world of football who knows what will happen. Messi may have a series of injury problems which means he can never reach the levels he is playing at now but i hope he just keeps getting better not sure how he can do that as he is already playing at nearly a godly level already. But as you say only time will tell.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'd like to believe that if Messi hadn't gone to Barcelona at the age of 12, we would still see the great player we see today. I understand that Barcelona helped him tremendously with medical expenses, but I'd doubt very much they made him the footballer he is at this moment. If that was the case, there'd be more like him before, but there hasn't been from this academy.
    Messi reminds me very much of Ronaldo. Both undoubted talents, great temperaments and love to run at defenders with the same amazing close control.
    Ronaldo probably still edges it for me in terms or greatness, but not by an awful lot.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am still doubtful of Messi´s capacity OUTSIDE Barcelona. He may very well be a player of ONE team.

    So far, he wasnt able to shine in the Argentina national team. He only shone in Barcelona.

    Imho, this happens with other Barça players too. Right now, Daniel Alves is a good example. His performances with the brazilian team are consistently poor, sometimes average at best.

    The rest of the Barça squad plays well in the spanish team... well, because the spanish team is almost the entire Barça team, and it was changed to IMMITATE Barça´s style of play.

    As for Brazilian refs giving too many fauls... well, brazilian players do commit many more fauls. Messi would fall much more if he played in Brazil.

    For all the talk of the physicality of the english game, Manchester United barely touched the legs of Barça players. ANY Brazilian game would be more on the level of the recent Barça-Real Madrid matches, which WERE a festival of fouls.

    Imagine if EVERY GAME Messi suffered CONSTANT fouls as in those matches. Yes, Neymar dives, but a good brazilian player learns to dive or his career will be significantly shortened because of injuries. The question is how to make a transition to a place of less fouls, as in Europe, where there will be orders of magnitude less ankle kicking, so you dont need to dive to escape fouls, and any dive will be more visible because of the much smaller number of fouls.

    Do brazilian refs really whistle for anything? Or is Brazilian (and S.American) football more violent?

    I remember years ago there were a few experiences with european referees whistleing a few matches in Brazil... in the end, they had whistled as many fouls as brazilian refs.

  • Comment number 8.

    btw, at the same time, I remember last year in South Africa, the british scratching their heads at Simon´s refereeing. They thought there should be more fouls called in that game. Were surprised a brazilian referee could let a game run free so much.

    well... a ref will adapt to matches! If they see the only way to control players tempers is to calling more fouls, or the game will become a brawl, they will do it. And they do it in Brazil.

    in 2009, there was a Grêmio vs São Paulo match, where there were like 5 fouls the entire game... because REALLY, there were few fouls. The ref, seeing no need to call fouls, didnt call fouls!


    Usually they do because in Brazilian football, there usually ARE many fouls.

  • Comment number 9.

    7 - a couple of years back i interviewed leonardo gaciba, one of brazil's top refs (just retired) - he told me that the criteria he would adopt for giving fouls was different in a domestic brazilian game from one in the libertadores involving teams from other countries.

    in the brazilian game he would give many more fouls, because, he said, that was expected and demanded of him - the players were looking for fouls, the coaches were screaming for free kicks and the media were seeing 10 penalties per game.

    i was a bit shocked - so something which is a foul here in brazil would not be a foul in the libertadores? i asked - yes, he said, the referee needs to be a chameleon and adapt to different cultures.

    He freely admitted that the brazilian criteria was a problem for the long term development of some brazilian players.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Tim,
    Was wondering what your thoughts on Colo Colo's Cristobal Jorquera are? I hear he's being linked with a move to Genoa, who in turn will loan to Argentina's Estudiantes for a season. Having been hugely impressed with him playing for Chile in 2 Toulon tournaments, i've followed his career with great interest. After taking longer than a player of his talent should've done to establish himself, he appears to be playing with greater consistently and has started adding goals to his game. Classy, with a talent for clever assists, i think there's something of Guti in the vision and weighting of his through passes - do you think he has the talent and mentality to adapt in Serie A? I'd love to think he does but then, i rated Carlos Villanueva...
    Any chance of him making the Copa America squad? I know with Valdivia and Fernandez, Chile have great options in his position and he perhaps isn't a Bielsa-type player but i really think he has something to offer them.

  • Comment number 11.

    Oops - just remembered, Bielsa is no longer Chile's manager, Claudio Borghi has replaced him. Could mean Jorquera has more chance of playing?

  • Comment number 12.

    People using untestable hypotheses as a stick to hit Messi with aren't worth the time of day. The man can only prove on the stage he is given, and every time he delivers. Even on the international stage he has recently scored a sensational goal against Brazil in a 1-0 win. The problem with Argentina, especially at last year's world cup was that the team was so badly ballanced with poor defenders (and defending in general) that Messi couldn't shine on the truly big stage. Even in the match with South Korea he was absolutely superb.

    He's only 23 and has already achieved everything an individual player could achieve and has done it over and over. The personal success he has in terms of awards is a reflection of his influence over a great team. Yes, Barcelona are a brilliant team, but Messi is the main reason why they are so. There is an argument that if you take Messi out of Barcelona he would't be as good, but nor would they be. They are as important as each other, to each other.

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree with others when they question Messi's capabilities in another club team, perhaps? It'll never happen, as Barca won't let him go and it's a place where Messi has everything. However, I can't imagine Messi landing in Naples for example, and transforming an average team to the heights that they reached when Maradona arrived.
    Maradona also won the World Cup in '86 practically all by himself, and also dragged the team to the final again, kicking and screaming in '90.
    As much as I think Messi is a genius, he's no Maradona. When people today claim that he is, or even better, I feel people have very short memories indeed.

  • Comment number 14.

    Anybody who doubts messi has ovibously havent watxhed aquality football. And all those who said messi didnt have a good WC watch were they watching. he did evrything but score and assited a few goals. and hes only gonna get better> rooney is not even the best player in england let alone the world. and if ronald o adds more dribbling and stops diving and moaning like a polit brat then maybe he be neck and neck with messi.

  • Comment number 15.

    @AcesHigh

    Dani Alves is a terrible example, he was a great player at Sevilla before he went to Barca and the reason he doesn't set the national team alight is because Maicon usually starts ahead of him.

  • Comment number 16.

    Can't really get why people question Messi's ability by wondering how he'd do outside Barcelona, Pele spent most of his career at Santos and is still regarded as one of the all time greats.

  • Comment number 17.

    yes team, but Gaciba himself is in the media now. I suppose he would have a chance to make an impact with opinions just as the ones he gave you in that interview.

    But did he??

    last week Grêmio vs Corinthians had two penalties which in my opinion, were ridiculous... NONE was a penalty. The Leandro kid threw himself with that small shoulder contact... and the Corinthians penalty was even more ridiculous, the Grêmio player stepped lightly on Liedon´s foot, and like, 10 minutes later, Liedson tripped, fell... and penalty for Corinthians against Grêmio!

    When Gaciba commented on SporTV (he was hired by Globo) he said BOTH were penalties.

    If he ever thought the media pushed referees for calling more fouls, he is NOT HELPING to change that at all.

  • Comment number 18.

    to ivan drago yes but pele did wonders for his national team which messi has not done yet, that is why they are doubting messi. people need to put things into perspective and give messi the credit he deserves but not more. he is currently the best in the world but not the greatest ever. imagine maradona or ronaldo at their peak in this barca set up.

  • Comment number 19.

    Messi will have his chance in the Copa America to show is he more than a Barca player.It will also give him his chance to begin a love affair with the Argentine public.
    In fact unless he returns one day to play for an Argentine club it will be his best chance to get people on his side.
    For me he is a glorious player the best of his generation as was Maradona,Cruyff,Pele,Di Stefano,Moreno and Pedernera.To compare is practically impossible.
    As for Neymar its going to be very interesting to watch him over the next few weeks Libertadores action

  • Comment number 20.

    Apart from his talent...Messi has a great temperament. He have yet to see him rant, scream or shout at referees, teamates of opposition players.

  • Comment number 21.

    wining the copa america will not get him to those lofty heights im afriad, yes it will show he can do sometihng outside of barca but it is not as competitve as the euro's for example. The only major team for argentina to compete with are brazil who have won how 4 out of the last 5 i think. But yeah he is the greatest player of his generation and yes he has a great temperament. Lets all hope he does not suffer such injuries that stopped ronaldo from being the best player ever

  • Comment number 22.

    As usual, another good article Tim. How about more articles on Uruguay, or one on Penarol? Wishful thinking, I know.

    Whenever an article is posted on Messi, I am always surprised at how many Messi-doubters there still are, or those who say, "Take away the rest of the team and he's not as good."

    Zidane couldn't always carry a world class Real Madrid side either, could he?

    To those who doubt Messi, still, I cannot help but feel we are not watching the same game of football. It is easier to believe that those who are nay-sayers simply do not watch that much football...

    Messi is the greatest gift to football since Ronaldo and Zidane have left us, those which were the greatest gifts since Platini, Cruyff, Best, etc etc etc left us..

  • Comment number 23.

    Messi is the most immaculate, spellbinding and staggering player ever witnessed by people of my generation I think, the skills, vision, intelligence and forgery he demonstrates is lethal and terrifying, and in theory he hasn't even matured into his peak for yet.

  • Comment number 24.

    LOL!!

    @post 17, I meant TIM, not Team!! Not that they sound very different for the untrained ears of a brazilian, but to an englishman it probably sounds as different as cocô and coco. Unmistakeable :)

  • Comment number 25.

    some people are deperate to discredit Messi so the international thing is the stick they always use to beat im with. Its also a very unfair one given he played very well for argentina before the world cup qualifiers and played in a horribly unbalanced team at the world cup, where he still played well.

    its only a matter of time before he does it big style for argentin and the haters will have to invent some other reason to discredit him.

    Meantime i'll enjoy watching the greatest player ive seen in my 25 years of watching football.

  • Comment number 26.

    @Courage: some people doubt Messi because Messi (as one of the 3 best players EVER, because there is no doubt he is awesome) because he still hasnt proven himself outside Barcelona.

    And yes, PLAYERS CAN BE dependent on a team. A player can shine in a team and fail in the next.

    Its too easy to remember S.American players who dont do well in Europe and in the same sentence forget that many european players ALSO fail when moving from club to club inside Europe, sometimes inside the same country! (recent example: Torres)

  • Comment number 27.

    I don't think WC2010 is a good measure of Messi's abilities. Maradona's philosophy of "never mind defense, we'll just score many goals" was successful against minnows like Greece, S. Korea and Nigeria. Against strong teams that was a recipe for disaster, as Germany proved. Pele, and Maradona himself, played in front of stingy defenses. Consequently, they were rarely behind by more than a goal during a game, allowing them to work their magic. Messi did not have that at WC2010. Against Germany, Messi had to drop deeper and deeper to get the ball, as his defense, made up largely of midfielders trying to play defense, leaked several goals.
    Playing for a legitimate coach, instead of the coaching travesty Maradona was, will provide better opportunities to judge his worth. WC2010 definitely did not. Neither Pele nor Maradona could have delivered different results with the team Maradona had at WC2010.

  • Comment number 28.

    I first saw Messi in the flesh on 22nd Feb 2006 in a CL match against Chelsea. He looked small and fragile infornt of the Chelsea players. His shirt looked like a tent when he tucked it into his shorts! He was played on the wing and Gallas was his man that night. At the touchline, Rijkaard kept instructing Messi to take Gallas on the outside, instead of cutting into the inside. I feared for Messi. Gallas was world class at the time, and a physical specimen that was twice the size of Messi. Anyways, after 15 or so minutes, Gallas could clearly not cope with the 17 year old Messi, and Asier Del Horno had to double up on the little fellow. If I remeber well, Del Horno was drawn to the corner and beat in zero space. Del Horno could not take it an lunged at Messi, for which he got sent off, giving Mourinho the perfect ammunition to to claim victimhood. The little guy there, anyone could see that he was beyond special..

  • Comment number 29.

    @Licepades: Messi is already one of the best ever. Now, to put him on the real top, lets say the top 10 pantheon, he will have to prove that he is able to keep his high quality for a long time, that he will be able to do as well in other teams (or at least with the national team),etc.

    This is not being a Messi hater. Its just being realistic. Ronaldinho was being acclaimed as the best ever in Barça, akin to Pelé and Maradona. Where is he now? His sparkle ended. He never did as good outside Barça. And nobody considers him even as one of the top 10 players ever anymore!

    With Messi, the SAME THING can happen. Or not. We will have to wait and see, instead of giving premature judgements!

    There is no doubt we can already judge he is one of football greatest ever. How top in the pantheon he is, we will have to wait before judging.

    And no, there wont be any excuses if Messi wins a World Cup playing awesome football. Imho, he will definitly be one of the top 3, along with Pelé and Maradona.

  • Comment number 30.

    I agree that Maradona had a greater impact for the teams he's played, ie the transformation of Naples and the WC 86.

    However, I also agree with the comments that Messi is on par or better player than Maradona. The way the game is played now is not the same as it was in the 80s, a player can have an impact on the team but no player can have the same impact Maradona did for the reasons that the game has changed.

    The same argument can be extended to Ronaldo. Portugal are a decent team, but they can't and won't win the WC just because they have Ronaldo. I wouldn't be surprised if they make it to the last 4 or even the final in the next two tournaments.

    England made that mistake with Beckham and Rooney, those two players were seen as above the team. No player is above the team, and England were doomed to fail even before a ball was kicked.

  • Comment number 31.

    "Barcelona's superiority comes from many years of preparation, and now the end crowneth the work."

    Queen Elizabeth I

    http://www.inofftheghost.com

  • Comment number 32.

    can't stand that neymar. i was at the scotland brazil friendly and his petulance and cheating did not endear him to the tartan army, to say the least. we spent the whole game booing him - only for him to fail to recognize the cause of our furore and mistake a racist german for one of us, accusing us of said racism. i don't think ive seen any of the brazil players who were quick to attack the highly respectable tartan army of racism giving an apology or an acceptance that it was nothing to do with us.

    messi is not only a fantastic footballer but he comes across as a fantastic person. never dives, tries to ride tackles, gets up if he can, modest, humble, gracious in victory and in defeat. neymar could take a leaf or several out of his book.

  • Comment number 33.

    As you and Maradona imply Tim, it looks like the ball is superglued to his foot when he's dribbling. It was noticeable on Saturday how comfortable he is in tight spaces, super confident now in his prowess, a bit like Damian in Omen 2 after learning from his father who he really was. Contrast this belief with the alarm bells that were ringing in Michael Carrick's head every time he got the ball.

    I agree, Messi is already in the Pantheon, alongside Pele, Maradona, El Fenomeno Ronaldo, and arguably a few others from my era, while I'm not qualified to consider players before my time.

  • Comment number 34.

    Messi's place in the pantheon of world football will depend on his performance for Argentina, especially in the WC. If he ever wins it, he will secure a prominent place. If he doesn't but goes far, he can still make it based on his Barcelona triumphs, but with less prominence. This year's Copa Ame'rica can be the beginning.

  • Comment number 35.

    'But as soon as he was on the ball all of us there knew we were witnessing something special.'

    I very much doubt you thought at the time that he was THAT special. It's all very well to write about how good you thought he could be, after he has been lauded as the best player in the world and one of the all time greats of football. In my view, very much a case of knowledge in hindsight.

  • Comment number 36.

    The thing i like most about Messi that sets him apart from several of his team mates is his integrity, I have never seen him rolling around on the floor feigning injury to get an opposing player sent off, he doesn't seem interested in following the example of his team mates.

  • Comment number 37.

    @35: not even Messi knew he would be that special. Tim is a journalist, not a vident. :)

  • Comment number 38.

    @ 26. Aces High

    Yes, true true, but does the fact that George Best and Ryan Giggs never had international success take away from their legacy? Not really. Of course, Messi has a better chance with Argentina than the aforementioned did with Northern Ireland and Wales respectively. Messi's greatness cannot really be detracted simply because Argentina fail to win a World Cup.

    Another thing to note, Messi is an exception to the Barcelona side who so frequently surround the referee, as well as an exception to those players who dive, whinge, cry, etc. The way he carries himself, on and off the field, is not comparable to players like Zidane who carried themselves as if they were warrior-monks, but is just as commendable.

    I am very happy that there are players like Messi who keep the magic alive.

  • Comment number 39.

    it's not about being a messi "hater" as another person stated you have to be realistic, stop giving praise for what he has not done. i think too many of you are underestimating what the players around messi in barca give him, a coincidence they won the world cup? for those who also say times have changed yes they have, people complain about the kicks messi gets these days imagine what maradona had to contend with when kicking lumps out of the opponent was given a foul at best.

  • Comment number 40.

    There will always be messi doubters. No matter how well he does, some will criticise him. However, he is currently the best player around. His attitude, humility and humbleness makes him different. (along with his technique, skills etc). Simply unbelievable and a joy to watch.

    I don't understand the idea that he has only been at Barcelona and poor internationally. By this standards, Ryan Giggs, 20 years at Old Trafford makes him poor. Plus internationally done nothing either.

    Great stuff Tim.
    Keep up the great work.

  • Comment number 41.

    Tim: Do you think Santos' current success is due to Neymar? I have heard of a 20/21 year old playmaker, Ganso, who plays there as well - is he anything special?

  • Comment number 42.

    All the superlatives aimed at Messi are well justified. If he can continue performing at this current level or better then he will go down as one of the very best players ever to grace the game.
    I watched this guy destroy my team in the Champs league final the other night and,although disappointed, I couldn't help but marvel at the skill, close ball control, vision, calmness and shooting technique that he shows because I like to see great football.
    I am not one of those people who thinks that a player has to do the business on all stages to be the complete player, Pele was surrounded by some of the greatest players that Brazil have seen which made his job easier on an international level and Messi can hardly carry the hopes of a nation if they haven't got the players to compete with the best, even the greatest have their limits!!
    I would love to see Messi at my club but, A. we can't afford him and, B. I think he will probably be one of many top players who have no desire to play in the kick and rush of the English Prem league.
    Possibly the only criticism you can aim toward Messi is that the Spanish Prem lge is basically a two team league so he doesn't have to play at the very highest level week in week out but he loves Barca so where else would he go to ply his trade?
    Whatever he does I will enjoy watching a modern great.

  • Comment number 43.

    Forgot to say, as others have said, you very rarely see him on the ground (because he's so good). He can do more damage by keeping the ball alive, a means to scoring from open play, not to getting a free kick outside the box. And how often is he injured? As Mr. Ledge #39, says he doesn't have to contend with the lumps taken out of him that Maradona did, but he's still so elusive that it's difficult for anyone to get a boot on him.

  • Comment number 44.

    35 - what a mean spirited nasty little comment - if you were a regular listener to the Radio 5 World Football Phone In you would be better informed.

    Anyway, for the record - from World Soccer maagazine March 2005, when I picked out players on show in the Under-20s. Top of the list, our friend Lionel Messi - as follows

    "Playmaker who arrived in Colombia with a reputation and more than lived up to it. Looks more like a pigeon-toed runt of the litter than a footballer - until he gets the ball, when he runs with the fluidity of the truly gifted and shows flashes of class with his left foot."

  • Comment number 45.

    41 - Ganso is injured , and has spent most of the last 10 months injured - Neymar is carrying the attack.

  • Comment number 46.

    Hi Tim.

    With Copa America coming up. Besides the obvious favourites of Argentina and Brazil. How do you see the other countries faring? Can Uraguay build on their great world cup or Chile with their good football.

    What about players to watch out for that are rarely heard of over the other side of the pond. (Besides messi, neymar etc)
    I hope udinese Sanchez does well. Very good player

  • Comment number 47.

    lol sometimes i wonder if you people read what other people have to say, who called messi poor? and drooper lets not get into media myth about him being so elusive nobody can even kick him. if somebody just wanted to kick him it's an easy job unless you're carrick of course

  • Comment number 48.

    Messi doesn't have to win a World Cup to be considered great.

    The greatest footballing side of all time may have been the Dutch side in the 70s. Did they win a World Cup?

    Again, I will reiterate the fact that Ryan Giggs and George Best never won a World Cup either.

    Ryan Giggs has played for Manchester United for 20 years so that means he is unproven, right? If he wasn't on Manchester United he'd be nothing, etc etc... At least that's what the Messi-haters would have us believe.

    And to those who say that La Liga is a 2-team race.. Yes, in some ways it us, but it is still strong in terms of competition. Atletico Madrid, Villareal, Valencia -- these are all strong sides who can put up a challenge on their day. Not that much difference between the English Premiership, right? Chelsea or Man U to win the title every year, but of course Liverpool and Arsenal are usually there with a shout, and now Man City and Tottenham can threaten as well.

    So because the SPL is a 2-team league, that means Henrik Larsson was not a great goalscorer, right, and that Celtic never deserved ther 1967 European Cup, nor did Celtic deserve to make it the UEFA Cup Final, and Rangers did not deserve to go to the UEFA Cup Final against Zenit St. Petersburg.

    Most of the criticism aimed towards Messi and the Spanish leagues is a bit hypocritical.

    BTW, Spain's World Cup win was a yawnfest. That victory means about as much as Greece's Euro win (controversial comments, I know).

  • Comment number 49.

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

  • Comment number 50.

    To AcesHigh (#29),

    Not sure why Messi should need to go to another club/country to prove how good he is? Ronaldinho is not a great example as he faded badly (compared to previous seasons performances) while still at Barcelona so it wasn't just that he moved country that affected how he good he was.

    By the way as an Englishman living in Brazil - I like your comment at #24

  • Comment number 51.

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  • Comment number 52.

    once again we are not talking about him being a great, we are talking about him being the greatest that ever played etc, so the giggs point is kinda void

  • Comment number 53.

    @ 29: in my opinion, Messi is already considered to be one of the best 10 ever to grace the game, and the debate now is about if and when he can take Pele's mantle. As for Ronaldo, in recent debates over who was the greatest ever, he is consistently mentioned as a candidate, so he is most certainly amongst the top 10 and the only question is what might he have achieved if he hadn't been dogged by the crippling injuries that blighted the second half of his career.
    As for neymar, like you Tim I fear for his future. He is clearly a very talented player and full of fun when things are going right for him, but there is a petulant side that is very perturbing. And it does affect his game. During this Libertadores campaign I've alternated between joy and fury as his magical skills suddenly seem to desert him and he needlessly gives the ball away, runs into trouble or just seems to lose interest in the game because he's become irritated or distracted by something. This tournament could indeed become his crowning moment, but he needs to seize the opportunity and demonstrate some of the maturity his (sadly absent) friend Ganso shows on the pitch.

  • Comment number 54.

    @ 52.

    Oh so you mean you are having a conversation by yourself, then, and nobody else is allowed to intrude on your tea party?

    Sorry, next please!

  • Comment number 55.

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

  • Comment number 56.

    @38: it doesnt take away from their legacy, but certainly, they are not in the pantheon of football gods (with Pelé, Maradona, Zico, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, etc) BECAUSE of that.

  • Comment number 57.

    @50: he does not need to go to another club/country. But at least, he must prove himself with another TEAM, and that team can be Argentina itself.

    why? Exactly because he needs to prove he is that good playing in other systems, styles, other supporting players, etc.

    Many average players play awesome in Barça. Messi undoubtly is an awesome player, but is he a Godly player, or he plays Godly at Barça for the same reason as average players like Mascherano and Daniel Alves play awesome in Barça?


    And I dont see where my Ronaldinho comparassion is weak, unless you know the future and is sure Messi wont fade even in Barça... most people thought Ronaldinho would keep playing at that level for several more years, but he faded. The same CAN happen with Messi. Its a possibility. Impossible to know the future!

  • Comment number 58.

    I disagree with the removal of my comment at @55!

    How can the Scotsman bash Neymar and call him a cheat at the Scotland game while praising the Tartan Army, but I cant answer in the same tone?

    Maybe HIS COMMENT should be deleted too, for saying Neymar cheated in that game, which can EASILY be disproved by watching any video of the match.

    The Tartan Army commited a HUGE mistake in that game, because Neymar DID NOT cheat.

  • Comment number 59.

    @ 56.

    Cruyff never won a World Cup.

  • Comment number 60.

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

  • Comment number 61.

    @59: but he did AWESOME at that Dutch team. Who said you need to WIN a World Cup. But be awesome at the national team!

    Besides, Cruyff is not considered one of the 3 best ever either. That place is reserved for players who did well at clubs and WON World Cups too.

  • Comment number 62.

    @ 61.

    Messi does pretty good internationally. And Messi does AWESOME with that Barcelona team. So by your standards, then yes, Messi is at the same level as Cruyff, right?

    And where is this "list" of best players of all time? You mean, the list that Pele makes every time he opens his mouth and puts himself at the top? How do you get considered for this? I am curious because this unproveable and is widely down to opinion, and right now, in the eyes of many, Messi is a great, and he will go down as such. Without a doubt the best player in the world at the moment, carrying on the torch left behind by past greats.

  • Comment number 63.

    Messi has not done as good on international level as Cruyff. So no, Messi is not at the same level as Cruyff yet.

  • Comment number 64.

    I hope Messi does produce for Argentina, and prove that he can perform just as well outside of Barcalona, but that really is down to Argentina to play the same system!

    England could produce such players if they had the vision from the off to do so.Look at Joe Cole, great talent but was wasted for club and country playing out wide most of the time.

    Top to bottom we need be playing one system, that the players can adopt in complete confidence.

    Build some kind of lasting blue print and stick to it.I have known of amateur sides with better foundations, that play one way throughout all their sides going back 20 years and more.

    I hope we can rave more about our own talent in the future.

  • Comment number 65.

    @ AcesHigh: can I just say how incredibly whiny and annoying I find you

  • Comment number 66.

    Messi is so consistent. With hardly ever any bad games.
    That makes him great.

  • Comment number 67.

    Don't think Messi will take too much notice about what a few "lil englanders" think of him. At 23, he's got enough accolades and titles to demonstrate his class. People seem to forget that he's already a U20 world and Olympic champion with Argentina and equalled Van Nistelrooy with 12 goals as the top scorer in one season in this CL but of course all these count for nothing if you don't play "kick and rush" in the glorious EPL

  • Comment number 68.

    @ 38: quite agree with you on both counts. Messi's attitude has endeared him to me also every bit as much as his football. And not participating in the WC should not detract from a player's greatness if that has clearly been demonstrated at international level for his club.
    re 53/29: I apologise for misreading Ronaldinho as Ronaldo and embarking on a defence of the latter. The former's glory was all too short, but I will give him credit for one thing that to me is supremely important: he brought the joy back into football at a time when it had become extremely dour, and I shall always be grateful to him for that. And I think his own game entered into decline precisely because he lost his own pleasure in playing (for reasons I can only surmise).

  • Comment number 69.

    Lionel Messi is the world's greatest player, hands down. I'm not saying anything here that has not already been said a million times. He is my favorite of the superb Barcelona team, not because he's the most gifted of an amazing unit, but because he is the best sportsman. Unlike his team mates (Xavi, Iniesta,Pedro, Busquets, and the like) I have never seen Messi-as much as he sometimes is kicked-contrive to have a fellow professional dismissed by simulating the card waving of the referee. For that, he has my total respect as a footballer, because that makes him in a sense, pure.
    I have not seen too much of Neymar, but what I have seen of his football skills, I am mostly impressed. I am a bit disturbed about the things I have read about him, the temper tantrums, the diving and so on. Neymar seems to have more power within the realm of his club than the manager does since the latter will be sacked if he has the audacity to try and discipline this boy (who obviously is clearly still a child, and a spoiled one at that). He won't last long in Europe if he behaves on and off the field in the ways that have been suggested, especially if he goes to England, the league in which simulation is least tolerated. I've heard a lot about Chelsea wanting him. An attitude adjustment is needed if the rumours are true and he "feels like" going there.

  • Comment number 70.

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

  • Comment number 71.

    @ 41: Ganso is better than Neymar, but was out injured from August till recently, and is now injured again and likely to miss the rest of the Libertadores campaign. However, despite what people say about Maradona and are now debating in regard to Messi, football is not a one-man game and there are a number of other excellent players at Santos: both veterans like Elano and Léo and youngsters like Rafael, Danilo, Jonathan, Alex Sandro... And since they hired Brazil's best coach - Muricy - he has given the team balance and more tactical nous, so that they don't leak goals so easily. They have the players to win the Libertadores, and it would be wonderful to see them come up against Barça in December, but in football you can never be sure what the outcome will be :o)
    @ 42: nice one! How lovely to see someone who puts football ahead of tribal passions. But Tim's blogs tend to attract more people of that inclination, thankfully :o)
    @ 61: but Cruyff is definitely in the top 10, right??? Well I think you've already confirmed that in No.63 :o)

  • Comment number 72.

    Is Neymar supposed to be going to Chelsea?

  • Comment number 73.

    Life gives us opportunities and talent nonetheless what we will turn it into it is up to us- MONTANO chose allowing it to go to waste; NEYMAR - is still caught up in playing the game "to be or not to be a real footballer" and not actually being one ... but MESSI is a whole other story and we have all seen it develope! he is determined and focused. All this years he never forgot that he is in the game because he loves it and not for the money, fame or to impress the ladies!
    B.T.W, the Argentine has not reached his peak yet - I am more and more positive that he will take his greatness to a new and improved level!

  • Comment number 74.

    Its always a pleasure talking Football with you, dear friend! improvvideo

  • Comment number 75.

    I hope in Messi!

  • Comment number 76.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 77.

    Messi is currently the best but its a 'team' game...his team is fab as well. What is surprising is that other teams/players have not found a way to deal with their skill/style in last 4/5 years...JM/AW have had some success...not much. No one has been a match up...Why. Which club/team can give Barca a good match...

  • Comment number 78.

    One thing I would like to add is how refreshing this is without people comparing him to Cristiano Ronaldo or debating who is better.. Oops, I said the C word. My apologies.

    It seems as if that argument has been put to rest. :)

    @ Aces High, again

    Cruyff is incredible. He is the generation before me (I was born in the 80s) so I cannot comment that I saw him, and yes he is highly acclaimed, but as you stated, never won a World Cup, which is your biggest bone to pick with Messi. But how many of these players that you would consider "greats" have accomplished as much as Messi, in just 23 years? How many trophies in total does Messi have that all these other greats had at the wee age of 23? How many of them can score 50+ goals in a single year of football? Messi is, already, phenomenal, and Argentina still could yet reach a quarter, semi or final in the World Cup (although I do not see it happening to be honest). If anything, that Dutch side of the 70s was almost the same thing as the Spanish team now: Most of them played on the same side (either at Barca, Ajaz or Rotterdam). Messi has the unfortunate event of having been born in Argentina, so sad to say he does not qualify for your high standards... Need I remind you the World Cup final was a dismal match that ended 1-0? With Messi in Barca's side, opposing teams are lucky to escape a "hiding" as SAF put it so bluntly.

  • Comment number 79.

    Tim, I can see where your coming from with your story about the Brazilian referee saying he'd give free kicks in Brazil that he wouldn't give in the Copa Libertadores.

    I remember sitting down to watch a full Brazilian league game for the first time many years ago, and I was stunned with the amount of diving, and the way the referee kept giving fouls for every dive. It was unlike anything I'd seen elsewhere in South America or the world. The game ended up 0-0, and it felt like I'd wasted 90 minutes of my life the game was that tarnished with the diving, and general lack of continuity.

    Do the Brazilians see this issue as a big problem, or is it just ignored?

  • Comment number 80.

    There will always be messi doubters , and they have a reason . Many footballers were so promising but ended being nothing . Injuries and loss of desire could take any player.
    Just remember Ronaldo [ R9 ] , i think when he was 19 he was better than Messi now, but instead of improving , he ended as a fat man and was a joke in the soccer world

  • Comment number 81.

    64. "England could produce such players if they had the vision from the off to do so.Look at Joe Cole, great talent but was wasted for club and country playing out wide most of the time."

    I'll come to Messi in a moment, but I must make comment regarding the lost opportunities of the above mentioned Joe Cole.

    When he first came to Chelsea I honestly believed we had just bought potentially one of the world's best... his touch and vision were sublime, his speed of thought was incredible, in fact he seemed as though he was almost savant in terms of vision as to where the ball should be placed; where his team mates should have been anticipating the ball to arrive... only few of them ever did?

    Cole, despite having a great first season under Mourinho - helping Chelsea win the title in the manager's first season (as well as 2 other trophies) - never secured a middle of the park birth and never had the team built around him, for obvious reeasons, as that wasn't how chelsea played. Instead he was stuck out wide and forced to create on the periphery of the game, week in - week out. Quite simply, if fate had taken a different route, Joe Cole would have been world class in my opinion. Instead, he was made to fit into a side where his natural ability/gifts were stifled, albeit successfully.

    Regarding Lionel Messi. Having read all the posts in this thread and read it suggested by a couple of posters that he needs to 'do it' with another team (namely the Argentina national side, as he will not leave Barca), I would like to offer those that purport such a notion this theoretical question.

    If Barca's current best 11 played the Spain national team's best 11 players 10 times, who would win the most matches, and why?


    Richard

  • Comment number 82.

    Messi is an unbelievable talent that is maturing at the perfect time in the game's history. His diminutive size would have made him an easy target for the brutal marking of European sides that went unpunished in the late 60's and 70's. Referees now punish any type of physical challenge as we saw with Valencia's attempts to stop him on Saturday, and as a result he has the freedom to showcase his skills.

    Not yet the best as only time and history can decide but well on his way

    http://www.soccerlimeyinamerica.com/?p=2266

  • Comment number 83.

    51- apology graciously offered and keenly accepted!

    82 - I think an interesting point about the tackling of the time. From the mid 70s to the mid 90s the quantity of ground covered by players in a match doubled - so less space on the field, but, until the 94 crackdown, no extra protection for the players.

    This is the span of Maradona's career - if you watch the kind of punishment that came Maradona's way, these days it would land the offender in jail, let alone with a yellow card. Maradona was so good, sostocky and strong in full flight that he was hard to foul - Messi would certainly have had problems coming up against old time Wild West tackling - hence the difficulty of making comparisons across different eras.

  • Comment number 84.

    Very well written article as ever Tim.

    I think that the most significant part of what you have written however is that whether a player goes down as a big success and name in football history or not, depends possibly more on being in the right place at the right time rather than merely having the skill, no matter how great.

    Which in fact makes it very hard to be objective about any footballer's ability, because if you don't get in a good team in the right place and at the right time, and also don't get recognition in that team, then you don't ever achieve your potential.

    e.g. staying South American about it, Tevez is an oustanding example of a player who was only rated as 2nd tier at Man U, behind Berbatov and Rooney, but at City and now generally in the UK is viewed as a top striker.

    He is actually no better or worse than he was at Man U, but at City he has been given "carte blanche", the freedom to do whatever he likes win or lose. As long as he keeps putting a goal in every game or two, he is wholly beyond criticism by his manager and most of the fans.

    This is obviously simply a consequence of football being a team game, as opposed to an individual sport, in which you can rise entirely on your own merit, whereas in football, other factors come into play, like acceptance by the manager and your team mates as to your role in the team.

    Another example is obviously George Best, who at one stage got homesick and went back to Ireland, and if Busby and the Man U staff hadn't been sympathetic and taking care of him properly, he might never have worn a Man United full team shirt or any other.

    So though I'm not as well informed as yourself on Messi's rise from obscurity, that he is now in a team composed mainly of players who won the World Cup only 12 months ago, makes it rather easier for him to shine than it would be for a player of promise who gets stuck in a championship side, who nobody hardly notices, because nobody important is much watching.

    As a footballer of even great talent, if you don't get a mentor who believes in you, like in Best's case, the Man U scout Bob Bishop, and Matt Busby himself, there's a very good chance your talent will never see any professional field, especially in those countries like England, where nepotism and other non-merit based connections to clubs has played a very big part in determining which kids from school got to sign on the books of professional football clubs.

    So while I acknowledge Messi is very good, I'm not sure how good he would look if he wasn't surrounded by a team of very recent World Cup winners.

    For example, if he is truly a great, he must surely be the only great forward or forward midfielder, who never scored a goal in the World Cup finals for his country, which he didn't in 2010, despite reaching the World Cup quarter finals.

    Eusebio for example scored NINE goals for Portugal in the 1966 World Cup.

    And of course Argentina, who also had Tevez in the forward line, went out 4-0 to Germany, so the fact that Argentina got such a thrashing by Germany even with Tevez and Messi together in the line up, again seems to illustrate the fact that even a very good player is often only as good as the team mates that are surrounding him.

    Likewise, George Best never qualified for the World Cup final stages with Northern Ireland, whereas had he been born in Liverpool like Rooney, Terry McDermott and others, he probably would have claimed English nationality and might well have won a few world cups in 1966, 1970, and 1974 like Pele did.

    So again, being even born in the right place and right time (or wrong place) can have a very big detrimental or favourable effect on your career, and the same of course applies to Ryan Giggs, who obviously will never see a World Cup final stages now, but would have done great in an England shirt no doubt.

    I think the real reason Messi is being lavished with so much praise, probably a bit beyond what he deserves, is that actually, individual skill and dribbling have rather gone out of fashion generally in world football, and when we see it, we therefore find it somewhat more amazing than it really is.

    I've often wondered if a George Best could make it as big nowadays in today's football, which largely explains my personal fascination with the career of Adam Johnson, who has some of that kind of ball skill also, but it seems it's very much down to what the managers want their players to do.

    Messi is being given the freedom to play as he does for Barcelona, but I'm not sure that kind of style of play is being much encouraged in England nowadays, which is why I think players like Johnson who want to play that kind of style have got more chance of doing so abroad, whether that's in mainland Europe or even South America.

    There used to be a score of English or British ball players like Rodney Marsh, Best, Frank Worthington, Liam Brady, Duncan Mackenzie, Glen Hoddle, and many others, but for some reason I can't quite account for they seem to have gone out of fashion.

    I think the reason is probably that everybody is now so obsessed with winning, regardless of whether it's entertaining or not.

  • Comment number 85.

    Messi doesn't need to win the world cup to prove himself, he's great already yet only 23, so he's got lots of time at his hands to even go higher. Puskas and Eusebio, other greats, never won the cup but are still talked of at the same level, more or less, as Pele. I would also like to believe by the time he retires he will have set some records which will be hard to match or beat.

    At SA 2010 Messi was man of the match for Argentina more than once, and if it weren't for some magnificent goalkeeping he would've scored some cracking goals too. He certainly wasn't as anonymous as his fellow pros who flopped at the world cup, eg, Rooney or Ronaldo. Its a shame that Argentina had a terrible coach, or they could have done a lot better.

    I think with the way the modern game is set, with teams designed to stop the opposition from playing, Messi is doing extremely well. I have been trying to think of even one game he played in badly and cant think of any. He's a marvelous person, never tries to win cheap free kicks, get other players sent off or roll around theatrically to con refs. I agree with an earlier poster who said he doesn't get injured too often because he's so quick and elusive, simple. Just as you wouldn't normally expect a boxer graced with speed & technique to have a battered face after a fight.

  • Comment number 86.

    I know i'll probably be unpopular for saying this, but I've always wondered why Maradona's performances are regarded as up there with the best when they were most likely drug fuelled? Its a bit like saying Ben Johnson or Marion Jones were the fastest atheletes of their/all time. Shouldn't the case be once its been proven an athelete has used perfomance enhancing substances then their achievements are annulled?

    I would appreciate it if someone could shed more light on this.

  • Comment number 87.

    86 - there is no advantge to be gained from cocaine - it is not banned as a performance enhancer, it is a recreational drug banned for health/moralistic reasons.

    Argentina brought Maradona back to play the 1994 World Cup when they really should have left him in peace - he was in turmoil and in no physical state to play - he got his weight down with an illegal drug, and got caught. But what the drug had done (and here is the difference from the athletes you mentioned) was give him a short cut to get in shape to produce his extraordinary array of talent - it is not a case, as with Ben Johnson, that the drug is the performance.

    No drug ever gave him the capacity to control a ball, do magic tricks with it, read the game - this were skills that he was born with and worked at - and his cocaine problem would only hinder these things.

  • Comment number 88.

    Messi is an extraordinary player.I loved your line Tim "he has now reached a level where could probably change the channels as well. ".Certainly it is true.He is one of best football players of his generation.Messi truly is Diego Maradona successor.Nobody can stop him when he have ball.He is so quick and he have amazing control over ball.
    I don't know why after having such a great skills,he don't deliver in national team.His performance in barcelona is exceptional.I want to see him performing in national team.May be this year copa America is beginning.Regards,shama from flowers abudhabi.

  • Comment number 89.

    @86.

    I think the difference between what the track & field athletes do with 'drugs' (basically performance enhancing) - as opposed to what Maradona was doing with 'drugs', was in actual fact that his addiction to cocaine was performance debilitating.

    Marion Jones was found to be using Nandrolone (an anebolic steroid), which aids muscle growth, increases the red blood cell count and strengthens bones. It also increases the appetite in a user and enhances an athlete's performance steadily over-time.

    Maradona was banned from the game for cocaine abuse, and cocaine will not enhance an athlete's performance for any great length of time, only deminish it in general terms.

    Hope this helps.

  • Comment number 90.

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

  • Comment number 91.

    yeah whatever.... messi is more catalan than argentina

    messi has never played for the national team like maradona did and until he can lead a team to win the world cup he is nobody

    its easy to play for barcelona

  • Comment number 92.

    @91. In my opinion I would rate Maradona as the world's best ever footballer, just for the record, before I say this...

    It's a shame he's never been able to get over it and fully realise the damage he's done not only to his own image, his family, his countries current national side and the early part of Messi's international career.

    Messi may never be regarded as better than Maradona on the park, but he's ten times the man off it, far stronger mentally.

    But there you have it, Maradona may have been the worlds best simply because his talent nearly matched his ego, and in hindsight it's easy to see the reasons for the 'crash and burn'.

    You, however, "bosterososvigilante", do not deserve to utter either of the great player's names in any sentence, and it's a shame you can afford a computer to do so.

  • Comment number 93.

    I''l try again to contradict AcesHigh's comments about Neymar... The reason Scotland fans booed Neymar was because of simulation, diving, going down too easily, falling over at the slightest touch - call it what you want. Exactly what Tim mentions in his article in relation to Neymar. Acceptable to some, just part of the game to others, in Scotland the fans are likely to start chanting the C word at a player who does this.

    Compare that to Messi. He might win the odd dubious foul, but generally he tries to beat opponents with his skill, when he is fouled he often just gets up and gets on with the game, and doesn't spend almost as much time moaning as he does playing. He may not yet have hit the heights with Argentina (though he has showed glimpses), and it might take some consistently good displays for the national team before he is widely regarded as one of the best ever players, but even now he is simply class.

  • Comment number 94.

    @91

    I'm not sure that the personal insults are necessary.



    Call me when messi grows a pair and learns to play well for his COUNTRY

  • Comment number 95.

    Messi certainly landed on his feet in Barcelona and he’s been very privileged to grow up in such a stable, nurturing environment, while learning from other great players and being able to play in such an amazing team, with such wonderful footballing philosophies. This has undoubtedly been a massive advantage for Messi in his career, when compared to what many young South American stars have to go through to reach the top.

    My main fear for Messi now is injury; we’ve already had the tragedy of Brazils Ronaldo, who for my money was every bit as good as Messi is now, before fate intervened and robbed him of his best years. lets hope for footballs sake there’s no repeat story.

    As for Neymar, I share your concerns Tim, especially after watching him in the Copa America Under 20 this year; all the talent in the world, but one hell of a chip on his shoulder. Personally I prefer Lucas from Sao Paulo, who seems to have a much better temperament to go along with his undoubted talents.

    As for Messi and the world cup; It should not be forgotten that Messi himself, in an interview before 2010, said that wining the world cup was essential for any player who wanted to be compared to the likes of Pele or Maradona.

    I think people should also remember that much of the talk of Messi’s need to win the world cup to be considered alongside Maradona, comes out of Argentina itself. Much of this relates to the type of bond Messi has with his own counties fans; a bond built on admiration from afar, as appose to the almost spiritual connection that Maradona enjoys. I’m sure many on here will remember the Estudiantes fans chanting at Messi during the World club cup final in 2009, about him being Catalonian not Argentinean. So in regards to building a stronger relationship to the Argentine public and in turn gaining equal status within the country to Maradona, the world cup is probably key for Messi.

  • Comment number 96.

    Tim, Do you think Messi's growth as a player is due to the fact that he bypassed the Argentinean League completely? And I'm wondering, maybe Argentina needs to shelter some of it's superstars some more, as was the case when Menotti excluded Maradona in '78, and as was the case when Pekerman gave Messi few minutes in the 2006 World Cup –– surely there has to be something to that? I lack your brilliant insight to articulate correctly, but you get what I'm saying right?

  • Comment number 97.

    Tim, thank you so much for your educated defense of Diego Maradona. So many people seem to assume he was a drug enhanced player, who couldn't do half the stuff he did without it.
    For any of you out there who have any doubt as to how outrageous Maradona's talent was, please visit youtube and punch in his name.
    You might just be thinking "Lionel who".

  • Comment number 98.

    #47, I don't need the media to tell me what I see, Mr ledge. I disagree. I think his elusivity reduces the risk of injury.

  • Comment number 99.

    Good article Tim.

    I'm certainly doing my best to savour Messi's performances at he moment. I didn't when Ronaldinho was at the top of the game, not expecting the dip he would take. I wonder if Messi can maintain this level for the next few years, if he can, then he will definitely belong with the greats.

  • Comment number 100.

    As a final thought on this issue people are clearly debating here, of whether Messi is a great player, and how he compares with others, I suppose the problem is the criterion one uses.

    e.g. if a particular person finds headed goals appealing, they'll probably favour a Dennis Law type who was good at that kind of goal scoring, or those who admire the kind of players who can belt the ball from 30 or 40 yards will admire and rate more highly players like Bobby Charlton, Eusebio, and maybe Ronaldo, who have scored many of those kinds of goals.

    So that seems to be the difficulty, deciding what exactly a player does which marks them out as "great" or "the greatest."

    For example, if we just do it on goals per game you'd probably have to give it to Pele and Puskas and indeed Jimmy Greaves, I think still possibly the most prolific English goal scorer of all time who played in the top professional league.

    But of course when rating goal scorers, you also have to look at the opposition, and for example the great 1970s Brazil team including Pele, Jairzinho and the rest only managed to put 1 goal past England and Gordon Banks in that World Cup.

    So how many goals would Maradona and Pele have scored, if they had been playing against brutal English defences every week, with players like Nobby Stiles, Ron "Chopper" Harris, Dave McKay, Billy Bremner and many other "assassins" in between them and the goal, like Best, Law, and Charlton (European footballers of the year all) and indeed Jimmy Greaves had to contend with, in the 60s and early 70s?

    That's why I personally reserve judgment on players like Maradona, because I didn't see enough of them to be sure, and I very much doubt hardly anybody who comments on these questions has done.

    I think personally that a truly great footballer should be versatile, should be able to do a great many different things. I also think they should be very two-footed, especially as a forward, and I'm not sure Messi qualifies on those grounds, who looks to be very left-footed, whereas Best and Pele were very two-footed, though very few top players are, even some who are called great.

    I personally look to see signs that they can do things that other players can't, things I've never seen before. What Messi does is very good, but I've seen it before. It impresses, but it doesn't thrill for me, in the way that George Best runs used to, Eusebio's shots used to, Pele's oustanding pieces of skill in the 1970 World Cup, nearly scoring from the half way line, and a few other very rare pieces of skill he did.

    There are defining moments that separate the truly great from those who are just very good - e.g. Cruyff scored what was known as "the impossible goal", a volley with his leg probably even above head height.

    And the utter cheek of George Best to e.g. 1 pop the ball through a player's legs and round the goalie, casually tap it into the net, when he was actually scoring the most important goal of his career, which effectively won the 1968 European Cup for Man U, 1st English club to ever win it, e.g. 2, the way he flicked the ball over Gordon Bank's head as he tried to kick it out, and headed it into the net in an N Ire V England international- amazing and should never have been disallowed.

    I think those kind of pieces of skill (and I could list many more) are beyond the likes of Messi and even Maradona, though I could be wrong, because I obviously haven't watched as many games as with Best.

    But then there's Jimmy Greaves' opinion, who actually played with most of the greats like Pele, and saw all the ones he didn't, who rated Best as the greatest player he ever saw - said so one day on TV on the Saint and Greavsie show.

    So likewise, Maradona impressed in the World Cups, with his power, speed and quick feet, but again, I didn't quite see the marks of true greatness there, which I saw with Best, Cruyff or Pele and also Eusebio.

    When you see real greatness it thrills, and for me, it did with the above four, but not with Maradona or Messi - impressed yes, thrilled no.

    The only thing I've ever seen Messi do, which really impressed or possibly thrilled, above say what Ryan Giggs might have done, was the solo goal against Real in the CL semi 2nd leg.

    Messi is a great team player, but without a great team around him, I'm far from convinced he would be that great in a lesser team, as I feel was proven in Argentina's ultimately disappointing performance in the last World Cup.

 

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