On Saturday, as Lionel Messi jinxed and weaved his way through a wall of Iran defenders to clinch Argentina’s spot in the round of 16, the feeling that one of football’s most gripping narratives of the last decade was about to reach its conclusion was impossible to ignore.
Having beaten records in spades and won everything he could have dreamt of with Barcelona, the diminutive Argentine was hailed as the greatest ever player to have graced the game and those who have witnessed his performances over the last couple of years could hardly disagree.
Ironically, however, Messi’s spectacular brilliance remains somewhat unfulfilled first and foremost in his homeland, where the comparison with Diego Armando Maradona are as unavoidable as seeing kids with a number 10 shirt on their back playing football in the streets.
Argentina’s prodigal son is loved by every Albiceleste fan and the hopes of South America’s second largest country have rested on his shoulders for years but the failure to match the extraordinary standards he’s sustained for Barcelona when playing for Argentina has slightly clouded his achievements.
Until two weeks ago, Messi, unbelievable player though he might be, was a World Cup away from matching “El Diez” in the heart of a nation but two goals in his first two games suggest things might be about to change.
Argentina were far from impressive in their two opening games but twice Messi came to the rescue and, perhaps for the first time in his career, the Barcelona man looks perfectly comfortable with the immense pressure that surrounds him and his team.
Of course, Messi’s heroics against Bosnia and Iran could soon be forgotten if Argentina fail to win their first World Cup in 28 years, but the man from Rosario is edging ever closer to match and perhaps finally surpass Maradona’s achievements.
That might still be source of debate in Argentina, for football fans in the UK look to have very few doubts when it comes to decide who’s the greatest between the number 10s.
Over the 64% of fans who took part in a poll via smartphone app OnePulse voted decreed Messi was a better player than Maradona, with 42% of them admitting their choice had been motivated by the fact the Barcelona man has been at his peak for longer than Maradona was.
Taking into consideration that Messi played his first World Cup in 2006 and became a superstar in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barca between 2009 and 2012, the results are perhaps a little unfair to Maradona who made his debut for Argentina 12 months prior to the 1978 World Cup, before leading Argentina to success eight years later and to another final in 1990.
Among those who believe Messi to be a better player than Maradona, the Barcelona striker’s better goalscoring record was cited as the reason by 36.6% of respondents and Messi looks set to obliterate his illustrious predecessor’s record in front of goal.
The 26-year-old has scored six more goals than Maradona in an Argentina shirt despite playing three less games (Maradona took 91 games to reach his 34 goals tally, Messi has 40 in 88 appearances) and has scored 243 goals in 277 La Liga appearances for Barcelona, only 16 goals short of Maradona’s tally of 259 league goals in 491 games – achieved over spells with six different clubs.
Some 32% among the fans who responded in Messi’s favour claimed he’s a better player than Maradona because he’s faced stronger opponents so far, but considering Maradona steered Napoli to two Serie A titles and a UEFA Cup and almost single-handedly dragged Argentina to consecutive World Cup finals, there’s no debate here as to who had it worse.
Likewise, the 22% who voted for Messi because of his bigger trophy haul seemingly ignore that the man from Rosario found himself in the heart of probably the greatest club side ever since 2008.
While he’s been a pivotal as a figure for Barcelona as any over the last six seasons, playing alongside Xavi, Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta has surely facilitated Messi’s quest for trophy as has playing in a less competitive league compared to what the Serie A was in throughout the 1980s.
The latter factor was picked up by over the 42% of those who picked Maradona over Messi, with many pointing out that football in the late 70s and early 80s was a much harder affair than it is now.
More than a half of those who voted for the former Napoli legend claimed he quite simply defined an era, something Messi has failed to do so far, while 42% pointed at Argentina’s triumph in 1986 as the difference between the two.
That, of course, could no longer be a separating factor if Messi continues his rich vein of form at the World Cup and leads Argentina, a team many expect to grow into the tournament, to glory.
No pressure then, Lionel.
Who’s a better player between Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona? Download OnePulse now from iTunes for free and get PAID CASH for your opinions on the World Cup!