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Does Messi really need to win a World Cup to be considered greater than Maradona?

Lionel Messi has been exceptional for over a decade. Is that good enough for him to be considered greater than Diego Maradona?

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature 13 Jun 2018, 04:04 IST
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Who
Who's greater among Messi and Maradona?

Football frenzy is here as the FIFA World Cup is just round the corner. Analyses, predictions, and debates are on the mind of every football fan, and with this, a perennial debate is once again ignited - Does Lionel Messi need to lift the trophy in Moscow to be considered greater than Argentine legend Diego Maradona?

Diego Maradona's legacy was created when he achieved glory in the 1986 World Cup, a tournament which witnessed Maradona at his absolute best. This victory put him on a pedestal, especially in the eyes of Argentine supporters.

Lionel Messi, on the other hand, has not won a World Cup although he came very close in 2014. This lack of silverware with the national team has always worked against Messi in the GOAT (Greatest of all Time) debate, as well as in comparisons with Maradona. But is this enough to disregard a player who has ruled the roost for over a decade? Let's find out.

Statistics

“It is easy to lie with statistics, but easier to lie without them.”

Diego Maradona:

P(Cl) - 491 | GS (Cl) - 259 | P (Co) - 91 | GS (Co) - 34

Lionel Messi:

P(Cl) - 637 | GS (Cl) - 552 | P (Co) - 124 | GS (Co) - 64

(P - Matches Played, GS - Goals Scored, Cl - Club, Co - Country)

A statistical comparison of the two legends clearly gives the upper hand to Lionel Messi. An astonishing 552 goals for Barcelona, and further being the highest goalscorer for the national team are some of the best ever statistics seen for a footballer in any generation. Add to this a total of 250 assists in his career, it emphasizes on how good a goalscorer and creator Lionel Messi has been. He scored 91 goals in 2012, a world record.

Enter cap
Messi created a world record in 2012

Maradona's statistics definitely do not support him in a battle against Messi. A good return of 259 goals in 491 games for his clubs, and 34 goals from 91 games for Argentina would reflect well for any player, but when considering a debate about the GOAT it may not be enough.

Marado
Maradona with the 1986 World Cup trophy

Another aspect to be considered looking at the matches played would be the longevity of Messi's brilliance. Many football experts have said over the years that Maradona became the GOAT due to that one month in the summer of 1986. But it is ridiculous to judge a player due to one month in his career. Messi has undoubtedly been the best in the last decade, and if not for Cristiano Ronaldo, he very well could have had 10 Ballon d'Ors to his credit.

Being the best over such a long period of time is a fundamental attribute of greatness, and this gives Messi the edge in the statistical comparison.

All said and done, stats may not reveal the genius of a player, a case in point is Don Andres Iniesta. The mesmerizing beauty of Iniesta's play can never be done enough justice by judging him based on his cruelly concealing stats. Hence, let's consider the other facets of the careers of the Argentine maestros.

Style of play

"I was a big fan of Maradona growing up and of the current crop Ronaldo is good but Messi is the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t dish out praise lightly but Messi deserves it. I look for weaknesses in his game and I can’t find them." - Roy Keane
“The best of the lot, no question. In my generation, my era, he was simply the best. I saw Maradona do things that God himself would doubt were possible. He always had someone marking him, he always had someone hanging on to him, and yet he could still always conjure up wonderful pieces of magic. A genius.” - Zico

Ever since Messi made his mark on world football, he has been regarded as the heir to Maradona. Both players have strikingly similar styles, with the uncanny ability to dribble with the ball extremely close to the feet. The videos below would give an idea of how similar their play is:

Both the geniuses have never been emulated in the art of dribbling. The joy they have provided to their fans over the years with displays filled with quality and finesse is unparalleled in the modern era.

Messi has been effective all these years without using any kind of skill moves to get past opponents. Maradona, on the other hand, has been described as one of the most skilful players ever seen. One of his trademark moves was the Rabona, a reverse-cross pass shot behind the leg that holds all the weight. There is nothing to split between the two in this category as fans have their preferences, simplicity versus complexity.

Trophy cabinet

Individual honours are difficult to compare, as the Ballon d'Or was not awarded to non-Europeans until 1995. Both players are highly decorated in terms of team trophies though.

Messi has won a whopping 32 trophies with FC Barcelona so far. His importance to the club can be reiterated by the fact that Barcelona has won 4 of their 5 Champions Leagues since Messi made his debut. Maradona won 9 club trophies, with Napoli, FC Barcelona and Boca Juniors. According to their club career trophies and stats, there is no doubt that Messi is the undisputed king.

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Messi with his 5 Ballon d'Or trophies

Coming to trophies with Argentina, Messi has only won the Olympics Gold Medal in 2008. He missed out on four trophies, finishing runners-up in the 2014 World Cup and in the Copa America in 2011, 2015 and 2016. Maradona spearheaded the national team to win the coveted World Cup in 1986.

His unbelievable "Goal of the Century" in the quarterfinal stage of the most prestigious tournament underlined his status as the greatest ever, at least according to the Argentine supporters. But I do not agree with that, and here's why.

Why Messi does not need a World Cup to be the GOAT

Messi won the Golden Ball for leading his team to the final of the World Cup in 2014 but losing to the favourites Germany in the 113th minute of the game. Imagine a scenario where Gonzalo Higuain had taken the sitter of a chance in a one-on-one opportunity against Manuel Neuer in the World Cup final.

That may have meant Messi lifting the trophy in regular time. Would that have made him greater than Maradona? It does not make much sense to give Messi the greatest tag in that scenario if he does not deserve it now. It's the same Messi who may have had a World Cup medal if his teammate had kept composure at the right moment, that should not determine his greatness whatsoever.

Imagine another scenario where Maradona was disallowed the "Hand of God" goal in the quarterfinal against England in 1986. He may not have even gone on to score the "Goal of the Century" in the game consequently, and history could have been completely different.

What needs to be conveyed is that for whatever Messi has already achieved, a World Cup trophy may not be required for him to take his place in the G.O.A.T debate, and also in the comparison between him and Maradona. The Champions League has all the best players in the world now, and Messi has consistently performed in important games of the tournament in the last decade.

Messi and Maradona are two absolutely sensational players, whose legacy will undoubtedly live on forever. I believe that even if Messi retires today, he can stake a claim to be considered greater than El Pibe de Oro. With a few more years of football left to offer, let us continue to relish the prowess of this incredible talent.

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Who do you think has been a better player for Argentina, Messi or Maradona? Tell us in the comments below!

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