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3 icons who eclipse Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

Shea Robinson
ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
Timeless

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Are Diego Maradona, George Best & Pele better than Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi?

Over the past decade, there has been one debate which has dominated football - Messi Vs Ronaldo. Fans of the beautiful game worldwide have endlessly argued about which of these two incredible players is the "greatest of all time". Sports websites, analysists, and experts have all pitched in with opinions and statistics to show that one is better than the other.

The debate is so intense that many fans choose to sit firmly on one side of the fence, fully backing their chosen player while deriding the other. However, this decade-long divide among football fans seems to have led to a collective memory loss. The millions of Messi and Ronaldo fans have forgotten that football existed long before the pair burst onto the scene in the early 2000s.

Perhaps it is a consequence of our social media and Internet culture, providing instant access to news and opinions. Perhaps it is due to a new generation of fans who only know a football world with Messi and Ronaldo in it. Or perhaps it is the unrelenting hype surrounding the pair every day. Whatever the reason, the Messi and Ronaldo debate deserves some context and new entries.

Firstly, it is worth noting that modern football players are finely-tuned athletes. From their daily diet to their access to cutting-edge sports technology, today's players are bigger, stronger, and fitter than ever before.

Secondly, the playing surface, football, and even boots which players wear are significantly better nowadays. Ronaldo and Messi play on pristine surfaces every week, wear boots specially designed for their feet and style of play, and use a light, finely tuned football which increases accuracy and shot range.

For these reasons, today's players cover more ground on the football pitch than their predecessors. They also enjoy a significantly better playing environment and far superior accessories, such as boots and balls, than the generation before. Due to these improvements, statistics for modern players are dramatically boosted in comparison to players from previous eras.

The huge differences between the modern game and football before the turn of the century make it difficult to directly compare players from both periods. However, while the Messi Vs Ronaldo debate continues to dominate headlines and social media, the following three icons, each of whom dominated the headlines during their illustrious careers, should enter the equation.


George Best

Football. 1968. Manchester United manager Matt Busby ( with his Manager of the Year Award) and star player George Best ( with his Footballer of the Year Award) sit with the European Cup trophy.
George Best with manager Sir Matt Busby displaying the European Cup and his Footballer of the Year award in 1968.

George Best was a cultural and footballing icon whose career flamed, flickered, and then died in the space of a decade. He made his debut for Manchester United at age 17, lined up for his nation at age 18, was European Footballer of the Year by the age of 23, and had all but retired by his 27th birthday

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Best's career reflected his lifestyle - fast and furious. It is perhaps best summed up by his most notorious quote:

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered" - George Best

The scrawny boy from Belfast had caught the attention of Manchester United as a young teenager. Arriving at Old Trafford as a player with incredible raw talent, Best was transformed into a world superstar by the time he celebrated his 20th birthday.

In just three years, Best had accumulated more than 125 appearances and 37 goals for the Red Devils. He had lifted the First Division title and caught worldwide attention for his mesmerizing performances in the European Cup.

At the age of 22, "El Beatle", as the English media had christened him, enjoyed his best season at Old Trafford. Scoring 28 league goals as Manchester United finished runners-up to Manchester City, he stole the show in the European Cup final when United became the first English club to lift the coveted trophy.

That season, he finished as the top scorer in the First Division and was named the FWA Player of the Year and European Player of the Year. Still only 22, many expected Best to kick on and dominate headlines for the next decade. Unfortunately, he dominated headlines for the wrong reasons as his footballing career entered decline.

His popstar-like looks and persona earned him a huge following and, at a time when Beatle-mania was at its peak, Best became the first real celebrity footballer. Fame led to demons and temptations as George Best enjoyed more and more of the spotlight, surrendering time and effort on the training field.

By the time his 27th birthday arrived, Best had stopped playing football at the highest level. His battle with alcoholism finally caught up with him at age 59 when he sadly passed away. Tributes poured in for the icon upon the announcement of his death in 2005, with a club statement from Manchester United calling him "one of the greatest footballers of all time".

While his career at the peak of football was short-lived, Best was the first genuine football superstar and one of the most iconic players to ever grace a football pitch.




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