Lionel Messi is the greatest of all time… and the argument is not even close
- Barcelona’s Lionel Messi picked up his fifth Ballon d’Or award on Monday
- Debate on whether Barca star is the greatest player of all time goes on
- Football has changed around Messi but he continues to reign over it all
- Pele and Diego Maradona were brilliant but neither quite matches Messi
- The forward’s team-mates have moved on but Barcelona remain a success
- Messi has permanent greatness and remains unfazed by his position
‘The great thing about Messi is that he doesn’t really believe he’s Messi’ wrote the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. ‘And long may it stay that way because that allows him to play with all the joy of a kid just playing in the street.’
The unassuming nature, the ‘head down and on to the next game’ philosophy that has always enabled Lionel Messi to carry his genius so lightly is certainly part of the magic.
But as he sees his face reflected back at him on those five golden balls it must be more difficult than ever to not think about just what he has become – the greatest of all time.
Messi has reigned over football long enough for the game to have changed all around him.
Winning the Ballon d’Or for the first time fresh-faced and with the tie not quite pulled up to the collar of his shirt in 2009 was one thing, and then to repeat the feat in black velvet, burgundy velvet, and polka-dot tuxedo in the next three years was something else.
Diego Maradona and Pele are the favourites of those who resist the march of Messi-time.
Pele’s time seems so far removed from the modern game the comparison is made difficult. It’s true he was kicked around in four World Cups and came out with three winners medals.but he never played club football in Europe.
Of Maradona, it is often said: ‘He won the World Cup single-handedly,’ and: ‘He made Napoli Italy’s finest side all on his own’. Away from the comfort zone of Barcelona Messi has never reached the same heights, goes the argument.
But, aside from underplaying the other strengths of Maradona’s Napoli and the quality of that Argentina side in 1986, such a theory also brushes over the way Messi has sustained Barcelona far more than Barcelona has sustained him.
We thought Pep Guardiola was the secret to the club’s incredible success when they won the treble in 2009 in the coach’s first year in the job. But last year Barcelona completed the same feat, also with the FIFA Club World Cup cherry on the top. Guardiola had gone but it didn’t matter because Messi remained.
Messi has continued to power Barcelona despite seeing the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho exit
In that incredible first season at Barcelona commentators could have been forgiven for believing Messi might not be the same without Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry alongside him.
But the following season he reached similar heights with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pedro for company.
Zlatan, who at times never seemed to be too enamored by his diminutive team-mate, nevertheless has voted Messi the world’s best player every year since 2009.
People thought Messi might struggle without Xavi but he has even filled in on some of the midfield duties
In 2011 David Villa became his new strike partner. Alexis Sanchez, Neymar and Luis Suarez have followed. “The world changes, but it keeps orbiting around the same sun. Messi shines brightest every season.”
We wondered if his level might drop when he no longer had Xavi playing behind him. But at times this season and last, Messi has morphed into his old midfield team-mate. Dropping deeper to play the passes that Xavi once played. All that’s left is for him to get on the end of his own assists – it wouldn’t be the first time he had bent the laws of physics.
The point is that, far from being in a Camp Nou comfort zone these last seven years, Messi has been at one of the most demanding clubs in the world and he has led them to a level of greatness that puts them at the summit of all-time top teams and leaves us in little doubt that he is the all-time great individual.
Messi doesn’t depend on forward colleagues Luis Suarez and Neymar despite their brilliance as a trio
He never depended on Guardiola and Xavi just as now he doesn’t depend on forward colleagues Luis Suarez and Neymar.
And on to all this excellence we can add the apparent ability to take such success in his stride that Galeano was on about.
Many good players have grasped at greatness and many great players have held on to it for a short time. Messi has it permanently under his arm and most of the time he forgets its even there.
“Messi has reigned over football in the modern era despite the presence of Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo.”