It is not often a manager or coach says it is a pleasure and a privilege to train a player – usually mangers have an unenviable task of just keeping their players focused on the job at hand or trying to stop things like players turning up to training drunk (Roger Johnson) or getting in trouble with the police (various). After Barcelona spanked Bayern Leverkusen 7-1, with Messi hitting 5 goals, Pep Guardiola came out and said ‘I am very fortunate to have coached and managed Messi’, a comment that shows he is in complete awe of the diminutive forwards talents and honoured to be a part of Messi’s career. But then again why shouldn’t he be-for Guardiola, Messi is the world’s greatest ever player, but this is a claim that has become one of world footballs most disputed topics.
Messi achievements seem endless; his latest was breaking the record for the most goals scored by one player in a single match in the Champions League. After his latest haul, we find Messi only 7 goals off smashing FC Barcelona’s all time scoring record, set by César Rodríguez during his 13-season stint at the club between 1942-1955 where he scored 235 goals in Barcelona colours. Messi will eclipse that record after only 8 seasons with the Catalan giants. These are just small accolades that are downplayed by Messi, who prefers to focus on team achievement rather than personal. Messi has a list of personal awards longer than your arm that would give anyone in the history of football a run for their money. His latest feat, coupled alongside a list of both personal and team achievements, only fans the flames that he is footballs best ever player, but some still refuse to acknowledge this.
Pelé is the holder of ‘FIFA’s Player of the Century’ award and widely considered by many as the ‘best player ever’, but will it soon be time for Pelé to hand over his throne to Messi?
Pelé existed in a time that only a few of us can remember first hand, where record keeping and technology was nowhere near what it is today. Video evidence of Pelé’s career outside of World Cup’s is sporadic and only basic statistics about his career are available-it is a pity they didn’t have SkySports and Opta in those days! The argument for and against Pelé is a robust one, but with so many factors working in favour of Pelé, many back his cause. I have grown up widely considering Pelé as the greatest player ever, closely followed by Maradona, but Messi is quickly rewriting history in a present that is a far cry from football of yester-year.
Messi has many luxuries that Pelé did not have; Messi has the privilege of plying his trade on near perfect pitches, with balls, boots, team wear, equipment and physical conditioning that can only enhance his chances of performing to the highest level. When you think about the conditions Pelé had to perform in with threadbare pitches and footballs that would feel like concrete in comparison to todays standards, his achievements are that little bit more impressive.
Pelé was way out ahead from anyone else of his generation, but was Brazilian football? There is no doubt that the 1960-1970 was a golden era for the Brazilian national team with two World Cup successes, but during those tournaments Pelé was not as impressive internationally as he was domestically due to injury, except for the World Cup in 1970. Domestically Brazil was all about attacking football, Pelé thrived in the environment, but was the only real striker of note around and name some legendary defenders from that era – it is difficult. Carlos Alberto is the only defender that most would be able to name and he was renowned due to his attacking prowess down the wing rather than defensive ability. The environment of domestic football in Brazil worked very much in Pelé’s favour.
Messi has already won everything with Barcelona he could want to win domestically, in European competition and also in the FIFA Club World Cup with his Barcelona side. Pelé was quoted as saying “When Messi has scored 1,283 goals like me, when he’s won three World Cups, we’ll talk about it”, but Pelé is stuck in the past. International football is dying in today’s modern game and its importance means less and less each year that goes by – winning the Champions League is the modern day version of winning the World Cup, although the prestige of the World Cup does remain from days gone by.
Messi’s achievements can be seen as more impressive when you think about the environment and society nowadays; there are pitfalls at every turn – money and riches can go to your head, media attention can make or break a career-when do you ever see Messi being flashy and arrogant or caught on the front and back pages of newspapers for the wrong reasons after a boozy night out or a kiss-and-tell story? Messi is over-achieving where many others could not and cannot handle the pressure and then make mistakes as any normal person would, but Messi exists on a higher plain and seems flawlessly unflappable.
But it will always come down to technical ability. There is no doubt Pelé was great, he, like Messi, could score any type of goal from free-kicks to dribbling past defenders, faking a keeper and slotting it in. The truth is Pelé was a pioneer of his time with a style of play that pushed the boundaries of what had been seen before. His opposition was unprepared to deal with what Pelé could throw at them or what he could do next. This type of flair player are now an everyday existence, Ronaldo is just one player that springs to mind in this category. Messi is a player who has tricks and flair, but keeps it simple and is exquisite with the basics in the face of ever improving opposition, as football now is a game for only the elite and Messi has proven his quality time and time again…he is literally an unstoppable force.
Pelé is no doubt a legend of football, but Messi is the only player of the modern era who will have a chance of getting near Pelé’s goals and games record. Whether he achieves World Cup success will depend a lot on his international teammates, domestically he couldn’t have done any better. Pelé may be soon forced to admit his title belongs to another smallowing his pride and ego because Lionel Messi is rewriting the history books and soon Pelé will be unable to argue.