The Messi Dilemma

Lionel Messi, at 27 years old has won six La Liga titles, three UEFA Champions Leagues, four consecutive Ballon d’Or awards, has scored the most goals in a calender year with 91, and added to this has scored over four hundred goals for club and country combined.
But is not the greatest player of all time.

Messi - Maradona
Messi – Maradona

After failing to add a World Cup medal to his illustrious collection of titles, Lionel Messi has been doomed never to be proclaimed as the greatest player ever to play the game of football. It seems now that all debate has been put to rest that the untouchable figures of Pele, and more predominantly Diego Maradona, have guaranteed their reign as football’s greatest, shall forever be. Over the past six years people have questioned whether or not Messi could be compared or even perhaps surpass such iconic heroes, but alas it seems that after failing to lead his beloved Argentina to the grandest of grandest  prizes in world football, the World Cup, it seems that Messi will have to be content to simply being a ‘great’. However this view is not justified.

It seemed that when Diego Maradona dragged Argentina kicking and screaming to the World Cup title in 1986, that he had forever engrained his name in the history books as one of, if not the greatest player of all time, second only so to Pele. It was during that tournament, as with any World Cup, that the entire world was watching. The earth’s masses watched as this little man created art on the pitches of Mexico, stroke after stroke of eloquently poised dribbles, genius touches of a madman, maddening goals of a genius that concluded in him rasing the golden prize above his jet-black curly locks.

People that had no interest in the game gave in to their temptations and sat and watched with the rest of the world as this little man made history. For years to come, almost as a reflex response, people would respond to the timeless question of who the greatest player of all time was, with El Diego. If not Maradona it was surely Pele. Children of future generations were brought up with the unquestionable fact that Maradona and Pele were, are, and always will be the greatest. People who had never in their lives even seen footage of these ‘gods’, as they were, would know without thinking, without proof that they were untouchable. No one, absolutely no one, could and would ever eclipse them.

That all changed. That all changed on the night of June 24th 1987 when a boy was born in Rosario, Argentina, less than a year after El Diego had lifted the World Cup. This boy would grow up hailing and believing in the legend of Diego Maradona. This young man grew up idling Maradona. Maradona, the greatest there is, was, and ever will be. This boy, of course was Lionel Messi.

El Diego
El Diego

The comparison between Messi and Maradona is unending. The debate over whether Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time is tedious and unanswerable. But they persist and arise again and again. Diego Maradona won the World Cup in 1986, when the world was watching. When the whole world was watching. This fact is crucial. Diego Maradona also won the World Cup in 1986, when he was at his peak. This is also vital to the debate. So, Diego Maradona, at 26 years of age, won the World Cup when the whole world was watching him, when he was at the peak of his career. Lionel Messi, at 27 years old has won six La Liga titles, three UEFA Champions Leagues, four consecutive Ballon d’Or awards, has scored the most goals in a calender year with 91, and added to this has scored over four hundred goals for club and country combined. But was the whole world watching?

This is the breaking point in the debate. Lionel Messi has proven to be the greatest club-level player that has ever existed. Season after season, at the highest level, he has proven to be on par, if not greater than any other player in history. But the fact of the matter is that the world does not watch Messi on a weekly basis. The whole world comes together every four years in the summer to watch the World Cup together, but do not watch club football regularly. What happens at a world cup is remembered forever, by everyone. The fact that a player scores 50 goals in a season, is not. At World Cup’s legends are made, legacies are forged and great players are made into gods.

And so, can it be termed as fair and just that the accomplishments of one player in one competition alone, can surpass the unparalleled achievements of that of a player such as Lionel Messi? Granted Maradona did go on to win two Serie A titles, again on his own, after winning the World Cup, however this comes nowhere, absolutely nowhere close to the hauls of records and titles attained by his predecessor in Lionel Messi.

So then the debate reaches an impasse: should a footballer be judged on his own abilities or on the titles that he collects throughout his career. It seems that the former can never reach a conclusion without interpreting one’s own opinion, but for the latter it is fact that Messi surpasses Maradona in all titles achieved. Except for one, the World Cup. And this is the one true setback. Lionel Messi has never won the World Cup. But this, this fact that he has never won the World Cup cannot be the reason, the sole reason, that Messi cannot be regarded the greatest of all time. It comes to the point where even if Messi does, in the future, win the World Cup, that he will still be held down below because he did not do it in the manner that Maradona did. This is utterly ludicrous.


Watcher’s of the Beautiful Game must see that what Maradona did was unique, never to be repeated. What Diego Maradona accomplished in Mexico in 1986 is his greatest achievement. On the flip side, Messi’s greatest achievements are colossal, not simply bound to a single triumph. Consistency is what makes a player truely great, not simply the performance of a seven-game tournament.

The debate over whether Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time is tedious and unanswerable. But it persists and arises again and again. It is, in itself, a dilemma. The Messi Dilemma.

Modern footballer’s have the benefit of being watched every game, which the likes of Maradona and Pele did not have. However, this lack of footage can not justify jumping to conclusions that may not have existed. The fact that so little footage of Pele or Maradona exists does not take away from the abilities of modern players that are trying to emulate them. If this is the case, it means that no matter how good, no matter how skillful a player is, no matter how many trophies and titles a player has won, or the number of goals he has scored will ever be enough to surpass Pele or Maradona, which is not fair. It can be seen therefore, in many ways, that the greats of Pele and Maradona will never be outdone simply due to the legends that surround them. Legends and auras that have been esculated over the years to such an extent that the representations of the Pele’s and Maradona’s that we have may not even have existed at all.




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