Lionel Messi: Comparing The World’s Best Player to Legends

Lionel Messi has many devotees. The 23-year-old Barcelona forward is undoubtedly the most talented player on the planet, but how does he rank against the greats of the game?

As far as trophies are concerned, Messi has won everything the club game has to offer, playing a major part in Barcelona’s historic 2009 six-trophy haul.

That year, Messi was named European Footballer of the Year, Spanish Footballer of the Year, and World Footballer of the Year. In short, Messi is fantastic.

In a world that lacks the same level of talent football has had in previous eras, Messi stands out as a player of supreme ability, a genius if you will.

The 5’6″ maestro is simply mesmeric to watch.

Rarely is the ball allowed to leave his incredible sphere of influence. When he is in control of the ball it might as well be glued to his foot.

Like many of the greatest players before him, Lionel Messi is a player who excites fans and causes alarm in defenders at the same rate, to such an extent that whole teams and managers go out of their way to neutralise the prodigy. This, in effect, releases space for his teammates to exploit.

The last player to cause such terror in defences was his old international manager, Diego Armando Maradona.

While Cristiano Ronaldo may be the closest players on the planet to even come near reaching the greatness Messi has to offer, even he falls into shadow when comparing the talents the two players have to offer.

One of the areas that critics of the Portuguese have always been able to point to is his weak character. Far too often does Ronaldo allow the occasion get to him.

Think back to the UEFA Champions League Final in 2009 between Barcelona and Manchester United, Portugal’s recent defeat to Spain, or any of the Clasico’s from the 2010/11 season, The manner of his performances are uncannily similar in almost every match.

The boy from Madeira’s performance’s are self-centered and self-indulgent on almost every occasion and are built upon his own egotistical desires when his team needed their biggest player to pull something out of the fire.

In 2009, La Blaugrana ripped the Red Devils to pieces with a performance of clinical beauty. Messi put in a fantastic team display and was not Barca’s best player on the night, but the contrast shows the difference between the two players. Messi is a team player whereas Ronaldo wants his teams to play for him, and if the team benefits from his good performance then so be it.

Johann Cruyff summed the difference up perfectly when he said, “It is impossible to put a price on his greatness, not only for the way he takes responsibility on behalf of the team, but also because of his generosity of spirit [on the pitch].”

The moral courage that Messi shows is something that all great players have, and the little Argentinean has it in spades.

He always shows for his players and supports from angles that that are easy to take advantage of. He is also unafraid to take the ball in tight positions, this particular skill and fearlessness means that an out ball to Messi is always on option for a player under pressure.

When he does eventually get on the ball, he is almost unstoppable. His train of thought is swift, his dribbling ability rapier like, and his capacity to change direction and confound defenders is like something from a video game.

Messi has everything in terms of individual skill and in terms of the team game, so it is little wonder that people are beginning to compare him to the greats of the game.

Ex-Barcelona President Joan Laporta even went as far as to say, “He is the greatest player in the world and in the history of football.”

Laporta may not be the most objective of judges, he basically owned Messi and all, but what he says is worth listening to.

Players of Messi’s stature come along once every generation. Alfredo Di Stefano in the ‘40s, Pele in the ‘50s, George Best and Johann Cruyff in the ‘60s, and Diego Maradona in the ‘70s.

It says much on the state of the game and the evolution of defensive coaching that a player of the calibre of the ones mentioned has not appeared in the world game since the mid-‘70s.

Messi is the first player in almost 40 years to even come close to matching the records set before him.

When Alfredo Di Stefano joined River Plate in 1943, few would have thought that the youth on show would go down as one of the game’s greatest ever exponents of centre forward play.

Famed for his part in Real Madrid’s domination of the European Cup in the ‘50s, the Argentinean’s future career was defined by his first five years in the game.

Between 1945 and 1950 Di Stefano played for San Lorenzo, River Plate, and Millionarios, scoring 97 goals in 134 games.

The next great player to enter the game was Pele. Edson Errantes De Nasciamento made his debut for Santos in 1957. Over the next five years he scored an incredible 202 goals in 257 matches.

Johann Cruyff was part of the famous Ajax side that won the European Cup three times a row in the early ‘70s and inspired Rinus Michels’s “Total Football” through his phenomenal technical ability and speed of thought. He made his first appearance for Ajax in 1964, between then and 1969 he scored 164 goals in 202 matches.

The last player on the list, and the greatest according to many, is Diego Maradona. The scorer of the greatest World Cup goal of all time scored 144 goals in 206 games between 1976 and 1981.

How does Messi compare?

The Flea made his debut for Barcelona in the 2004/05 season against Espanyol. Since then he has scored 179 goals in 264 games.

His record is highly favourable, especially when you consider that Messi plays in an era where players are fitter than ever before and where tactics have reached new levels.

Of course. it is worth pointing out too that Messi never had to, or will ever have to, endure the levels of physical abuse his predecessors were forced to.

One amazing stat that jumps right out is that, of the players mentioned, three of the five played, or play for, Barcelona, and Alfredo Di Stefano was a Barcelona player until FIFA stepped in.

Will Messi ever reach the same kind of status afforded to the likes of Pele and Maradona? Only time will tell.

His current manager, Pep Guardiola, has an opinion on the player that is also worth listening to…

“Messi is the greatest footballer I have ever seen…or expect to ever see.”

Soccer Spread

Author Details

Willie Gannon
Willie Gannon

Willie Gannon is a football writer with a number of coaching badges who is lucky enough to cover the greatest and most debated sport in the world for Backpage Football. He specializes in the English Premier League, Champions League, European and International football. His work has been featured on Fox Sports, CBSSports, the Daily Mirror Football Online, the LA Times Online, Tiger Beer Football, Bleacher Report and the International Business Times.

35 thoughts on “Lionel Messi: Comparing The World’s Best Player to Legends

  1. I would beg to differ. Messi has gone missing on numerous big occasions too. He has hardly performed against english teams away from home. And on international stages too. What about the match against germany in the world cup? Ronaldo went missing against barca and spain because these are teams who deny the opposition any possession. Even the most skilled players of the past or present cant produce anything if they do not get the ball, why messi himself as you say. And to say ronaldo is not a team player would be outrageous. He has improved vastly on his teamwork and works for the team. After all it was him who netted the winner for real madrid to lift their first piece of silverware in 3years and that too against barcelona. You might say messi scored two in the cl semi final 1st leg but he was largely missing until the unfair dismissal of pepe. Also i feel ronaldo is the more complete footballer who has proved himself in multiple leagues and different teams. He is strong both ,the mentally and physically, he is fast, strong in the air and certainly does not lack any footballing skills. I doubt messi would be so successful, as he is now, if he played for any other club , because this team and system suits him perfectly. I know this debate would go on forever and ever but decide to end it now.

    1. It was messi who got argentina that far, he carried them through. All of argentinas goals in the group stage came through him. Higuain’s hat-trick. Also Ronaldo does not help his team. What did he do before the winning header? Nothing. He is just arrogant and wanting to get the team to pass to him to score. Look at madrid’s last 3/4 games.
      Messi suit another club? He was made and brought up at Barca. You have no right to say that.
      Messi > Ronaldo any day all day

    1. why people r bringing C.ronaldo here?I believe so far minimum 50 players have played with whom C.Ronaldo may be compared.For example Zidane,real ronaldo,Ronaldinho,Romario,Platini,Zico,hristo,Figo and many more I can name.
      But to compare with Pele and Maradona……..only Messi is there.May be Messi will stand above,if he can continue this form for next 3/4 years.

    2. Could he do it against my ” yet unknown to the world” village team?

      Its up to Stoke to meet him not up to Messi.

      They need to come to the level he is and others play at i.e. Champions League.

      IF they can’t then the question is like asking
      Whats North of North Pole?

      aka utterly stupid mindless idiotic shit that sexist Andy Gray and his followers mumble that isn’t even funny as a joke if its mean to be that.


  2. Did you even watch the copa del rey final? You say that ronaldo didnt do anything till he scored. Well atleast see the highlights now. He had 2or shots saved in the first half and just before he scored goal he went close to scoring twice. As for you saying i have no right to say that ronaldo is better than messi, u have no right to say messi is greatest, ever let alone greater than ronaldo . I just pointed out the finer aspects of ronaldo’s game which william had failed to point as he has dedicated this article to make messi the hero. As for the world cup, argentina’s group was so easy that they could have gone through even without messi. What did he do in the crunch match against germany. Did he even play that match?

  3. First of all I want to clarify this right here . The best player in a game should have all the characteristic abilities possible . How many goals has messi scored like the porto goal or the arsenal goal scored by ronaldo in 2009? Ronaldo does skill moves and is also good in dribbling although not the way messi does but he beats defenders easily . He has all the characteristics that a perfect footballer has . To top it all ronaldo doesn play in a team as good as Barca. Against barca if you stop messi , iniesta or pedro will move in easily . Their style is so .They press hard even an average player will succeed there. I would like to see messi score these goals in EPL . No chance his monotonous style only suits barca

  4. What i mean to say is teams fear to stop messi . If they pressurize him more, iniesta will get the ball and provide a pass to pedro or villa . They hog the ball so well . So messi is subjected to less pressure from defenders nowadays.It’s true messi is a good player but still ronaldo remains the best

  5. Messi is truly amazing, not only because of his goals but because of his assists and contributions as well. No wonder people compare him to Maradona. Both are not the traditional goal scorer. They control the attacks as well. I love both, but I wouldn’t mind if in the end Messi can surpass Maradona. He’s still 23! He has like more than 10 yrs to go. Hopefully he will free of injury.

  6. messi is the best in the world and every one can see that. many people does not know the diference between the best goal scorer and the best player. the best goal scorer deals with goals only and does not care obout other things and the best player deals with goals and team moral and team wins together with trophies and happiness and thats where messi comes cause he has all and i dont see any one like him. he is not selfish, he plays as a team and thats what i call the world class football star of all times. when i play a ball i always look at him, but i know that one day i l meet him and shake his hands.

  7. @wandile I see you nothing more than a passionate .ignorant fan who doesn know anything about football . What’s team morale got to do anything with a guy being a best player . grow up kid . Messi is more selfish than ronaldo as can be evidently seen clearly . Moreover being selfish has also not got anything to do with being the best player. I wish to see messi do a stepover or a skill move or a trick pass

  8. @NATSHA

    “Messi is more selfish than ronaldo as can be evidently seen clearly . Moreover being selfish has also not got anything to do with being the best player. I wish to see messi do a stepover or a skill move or a trick pass”

    There,you see?Actually posts like that makes you clearly look as a clueless regarding football.You managed that all by yourself.

  9. @johanvil What do you wish to say ? Are you a pundit ? read the previous comments . try to comment instead of looking to personally talk trash about someone is that clear ? ur midget messi uses drugs

  10. @NATSHA
    Please tell me that you’re a ten year old kid and then it’s all forgiven.Because if not,then we have a problem.No actually you clearly have, as your posting it gets more ridiculous(hint:” messi uses drugs”) than before.

  11. well of course people who dont know to argue use personal remarks. Well i have no mood to argue wuth you . coming to the point Ronaldo is the best player in the world and losers like you are too jealous to agree with it.

  12. at JOHANVIL: You have not made any points regarding football here . There’s no need to talk bad about a person . Just put down your points related to football !!

  13. People! This is not some stupid site likea where people make foolish comments and turn healthy rivalry between players into a personal issue and start bitching about each other. It would be better if you guys bring out proper points and facts .

  14. Totally agreed with JOHN. Johanvil please stop your stupid comments and put down some points related to football

  15. Hey punk.Stupid comments?I thought Messi should do more stepovers or a trick pass in order to prove he is the best or that he uses drugs are stupid ones.But i know i’m jealous as he claims…Sorry if i crossed the line(something he did first actually but nobody start complaining) and i apologise to you all(except NASTHA).I thought we were able to respond to other people’s comments and don’t tell me it hasn’t been done before.As far as the football related comments,i didn’t mention any because there is nothing that i believe that it hasn’t already been mentioned before.You wanna hear it all over again?Here we go:Messi is the best player right now cause he has won everything in club level(so has Ronaldo of course but Messi has about 3 more important trophies) and mainly stepped up to the occasion in contrast to the Portuguese.Moreover,he is more of a team player and that’s for me makes him a better player.He has proved that not only this year but for the last 3 at least.Also,his attitude on and off(i won’t expand in that as it’s kinda irrelevant for some) the pitch doesn’t stink unlike a certain Portuguese that has his ego above everything all and especially his team.Finally,sometimes i have watched Ronaldo doing those pretty but stupid nonetheless flicks that lead nowhere like he is a kid and tries to impress someone when there is absolutely no need to do that.Messi isn’t like that and he is a player with greater essence as far as is concerned that.Don’t get me wrong.Ronaldo is a very good player and the distance between him and Messi is very small and when that’s the case you look into the details.Well looking at those details, i think the latter edges him to being better.

  16. Johanvil , I want to stress the fact that Messi has won these 3 trophies which you say only because he plays in a team known to be the best now . When an average player like Pedro performs well there , why cant Cr . My point is that if Ronaldo plays there he will score around 20 goals more than messi . Clearly Ronaldo has proved himself in 2 leagues unlike messi who has been in this good team for years . Messi is light years behind Ronaldo and that is the fact. Messi is not a complete player unlike Ronaldo

  17. On one hand They say:

    Messi doesn’t play well for Argentina or
    in the World Cup (or he needs ot win 1 WC at-least).

    then they say:

    WC is no longer the best competition, UCL IS

    (In where Messi has been by far the best consistently over a period of time, mind you)

    Make up your damn minds
    you jealous crybabies.

    Whats it gonna be?

  18. Okay heres the FACTS for you Cristiano Ronaldo fans out there….
    Messi: 5 La Liga winners medals, 1 Champions LG winners medals
    CR: 3 Premeir LG winners medals, 1 champions LG winners Medal
    Ronaldo had his best season this year in front of goal yes? I mean 41 goals in La Liga is incredible and hats off to him! I say this because a lot of you CR fans use this “complete” ( load of bull**** ) argument, backing it up by saying he scores more goals with his head or outside the box. Well lets agree on something else so, Ronaldo is 26 and has 209 goals in 412 appearances in all competitive club football competitions. Messi is ONLY 23 and has 179 goals in 268 appearances. Clearly Messi’s avg is better and he’s 3 years on your CR. So you’ll argue “Messi can’t score a goal like CR did against Porto” well I’ll say can CR score a goal like Messi? Can he score a goal which is a carbon copy of Maradona’s most famous goal? Can he with all his tricks and flicks skip past a whole defence and slot the ball cooly into the net? Maybe he can, maybe he will only time will tell but for now you cannot say he has. If you think about it a goal is a goal whether it’s scored from 50 yards out or 5 and based on that would you not won’t the player who scores more goals per games than the one who doesn’t?
    So what about assists? Most CR fans say he’s just as much a team player as Messi well lets look at the stats…CR 83 Assists in 412 games whereas Messi has 73 in in 268, hmm seems your wrong again there.
    These are FACTS, I mean I’m not even going into Mess’s or CR’s character..and come on if you were 100% honest who would you say is a better role model? I mean CR’s character is not bad in fact I’m sure he’s a lovely guy but not as good as Messi’s. And yes that is important although you die hard CR fans won’t admit it. Every person has and needs a role model, especially those who play sports and when you become as good as these 2 players are the eyes of the world are on you. Pele and Maradona, Best and Cantona all the greats had to deal with this. Whether Messi and CR like it or not they have to be role models and they must carry this weight (like Pele and Maradona did) and be judged on their characters.
    Another argument of yours I suspect is that CR has proven himself in England and Spain but I’m gonna burst your bubble there…Surely by proven himself in England you mean his Premier League medals and Champ Lg medals? I mean surely your not counting his performances in cup competitions such as the carling cup? Had that been all he won in England you wouldn’t be saying he has proved himself there…So answer me this how has he proved himself in La Liga? I mean if you are to say he is as good as the greats then the King’s Cup does not suffice. Yes he’s scored goals but apart from a golden boot award and the King’s Cup he has nothing to show for his time in La Liga. Maybe he will in time but at the moment he has nothing.
    Your final desperate argument will be that Messi is playing in the best team in the world at the moment and that if CR was playing for Barcelona he’d get more goals than Messi. Hard to prove your argument though since you’ve been resorted to “ifs” and “buts” wouldn’t you agree? I mean my counter argument could be, well Messi would score more goals at RM, however unlike you stats back up my argument. The exact stats you agreed were FACT and cannot be argued with. I mean look at when the two have come face to face in matches? Well as you sit there trying desperately to come up with another ridiculous argument I’ll finish with this…
    There is a reason Barcelona are the best team in the world right now, in fact there are many, but the star that shines brightest is a little humble boy from Argentina, I think you know his name…

  19. @david ward Statistics are not always to be looked upon and also ronaldo is only 2 years elder than messi you got it wrong.Well even if ronaldo has not established himself(only as you say) in spain he has atleast scored 66 goals in 67 appearances . That is averaging a goal a match which is impossible to do when you have switched league.The point is he is versatile and has played in 3 different leagues unlike your messi who hasn even ventured it .Ronaldo has scored all types of goals he has dribbled many players and scored . well look for the videos if you want . one was against aston villa i remember.Coming to the national team , CR has driven a team single handedly to WC semis (2006) which Messi has still to do.Even my final arguement is true messi has the world’s best centre midfielders feeding him

  20. Messi is also subjected to less resistance from defenders as can be evident against Getafe and south korea(2010 WC).He is a guy with a only known style that suits only a team . He will struggle anywhere outside barcelona.He lacks versatility . Of all the goals he has scored only around 25 are good while rest are tap ins or ones where he receives the ball in an excellent position (1 on 1 with GK or beating a defender).Where was messi against Inter last year or against chelsea the year before. He can be easily stopped by good defences

  21. Cristiano Ronaldo is easily the best player in the world . He is streets ahead of Lionel messi who is lets say the 3 rd best after Cristiano ronaldo and rooney

  22. Man U supporters, hate or love Messi, he is one of the greatest players of all time. CR is okay but please don’t insult our inteligence by comparing the two. Messi is miles ahead.

  23. u can cy al u wana cy guys bt king messi is th best player of all times…he is th greatest player anyone ever c in th history of footballer

  24. Now can you messi haters dare say ronaldo is better than messi? i think not… the number 10 is on his way to a fifth ballon d’or

  25. Have u ever heard a comparison of ronaldo with the legendary pele ana maradona???why is messi only compared with the greatest ever

  26. people try to compare ronaldo to messi….they cant dare compare him with maradona or pele because he can never be!!!!

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