Nader Hussein, ‘Doah Staff Writer
March 4, 2015
“Who is the best player in the world? Leo Messi. Who is the best player ever? Leo Messi.”
Those words of praise came from Arsène Wenger, the manager of English club Arsenal F.C., who has played against Lionel Messi on multiple occasions. But he is not the only one who thinks so highly of the little Argentinian phenom. Many footballers, other athletes, managers, executives and celebrities have shared their admiration for Messi, calling him the greatest of all time. However, some are not convinced. Some prefer players of the older generations, while some point to current players who may be the best ever.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known almost everywhere as Pelé, has always been the benchmark for footballing greatness. Until recently, there was very little debate over the top spot in soccer history. Pelé’s record of three World Cup titles has still yet to be broken, with Messi still looking for his first. The Brazilian legend still holds many records, including the most goals scored and the most hat tricks scored, but some of his long-standing records have begin to fall to the current crop of superstars.
There is no doubting the success of Pelé, or that he is one of the greatest to ever play soccer, but there are some question marks over his claim to being the greatest player of all time. Firstly, Pelé never moved to play his club soccer in Europe, against some of the other great players of the time. There is something to be said about his loyalty to Santos, his boyhood team, but it would have made for a much more interesting debate if he had played his club soccer in Europe against the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás and Bobby Moore, who Pelé himself praised as the greatest defender he has ever played against.
Secondly, Pelé played in a time where the players were much less physically gifted. Defenders nowadays are generally big, strong, quick and determined. However back then, there was much less professionalism, and players were regular drinkers and smokers, which affected fitness levels and physical abilities. One could not say that today’s players never drink and never smoke. However, it is much less common, and players who partake in that kind of behavior are often punished by their teams and scrutinized by the media.
Lionel Messi plays his club soccer with FC Barcelona in Spain, who he has been with since the age of 11. He holds multiple world records, as well as league and club records in the Spanish Primera División. He is regularly playing against strong teams, both in league play and the UEFA Champions League, and often beats them with his superb ability. He competes against other great players, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo, often, and it pushes him to a level that very few could ever play at for a short period of time, never mind multiple years.
One common argument against Messi is that he has never left Barcelona and has always had great providers and teammates, like Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, to help him. However, this argument has little to no merit, since every great player has had great teammates around him to help him and to push him to the limit. Cristiano Ronaldo made his name at Manchester United, where he was surrounded by some of the greatest players in Premier League history, such as Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney. Pelé himself could not claim that he did not have great teammates. On the international stage, Pelé played with such players as Carlos Alberto Torres, Rivellino, Jairzinho and Garrincha. One would be hard-pressed to find a great footballer who did not have a strong supporting cast to help him achieve greatness.
Pelé himself has not held back from getting into the debate, but it has mainly been to put down Messi or criticize him in some way. In 2012, Pelé shocked the soccer community by claiming that the 20-year-old Neymar was already better than Messi. “Some are saying that Messi is better than Pelé,” the Brazilian said, “Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which he isn’t yet.”
With Messi still just 27-years-old, his career is far from over. It will be very interesting to see if by the time Messi hangs up his boots, Pelé has changed his mind on the Argentinian’s legacy.