Friday July 4 2014
Messi or Maradona?

In the World Cup quarter-finals with Argentina, Dave Taylor wonders if Lionel Messi is now on course emulate his predecessor Diego Maradona.

The greatest players can do nothing for 90 minutes than score a fabulous winner and twice already at the 2014 World Cup have we seen Lionel Messi do this. Yet, despite his legendary status in the world game he has been relatively quiet so far this summer, in facing the challenge of not only lifting the famous gold trophy, but emulating his most infamous of predecessors, Diego Maradona.

After watching Maradona many times for Napoli I have to admit I cannot see anyone ever being better than the little man from Lanus. Unfortunately I have never seen Lionel Messi but certainly on the televised evidence there’s no doubting he has magical skills as well.

However, on the almost unanswerable subject of matching Maradona I will put in two riders. In my opinion, until Messi drops down the League and drags a club like Espanyol for instance, up by the bootlaces, as Diego did with Napoli - a club one point away from relegation the season before he signed - he can never be judged in the same overall social/footballing standing as Diego.

The other criterion only echoes what two world-wide legends in Brazil’s Ronaldo and France’s Michel Platini have said. “Messi will always be great with or without winning the World Cup,” the French legend has considered. “However, the World Cup is something special by which he would be remembered.”

In a similar vein Ronaldo claimed: “Messi is fantastic but will only be a legend like Zidane and Maradona if he wins the World Cup.”

Of course some think Messi does not need to dominate this tournament as he has proven on many occasions in the Champions League that he can overcome the best that the world can offer.

However, for what he has already achieved in his early years at club level, the Barcelona ace’s chance to join that pantheon of true greats comes at the end of this tournament and until then I am holding fire.

So too is the 27-year-old: “The comparison with Maradona is a very nice compliment, but not one that I can accept yet. He did so much for the national team - and I don’t think any player can be considered a true great until they have won the World Cup. I hope that I can do that and I hope I can do that this summer - but until then I don’t talk about me as the best.”

Are the comparisons between the two fair? First let’s just look at some comparable facts concerning them both regarding the World Cup. By a similar age to Messi, Maradona had played in two tournaments. In 1982 Diego was just 22 and helped Argentina to the second phase before being knocked by eventual winners Italy. However, in 1986 at the very top of his powers, just as Messi is now, he scored five goals, including arguably the best ever at a World Cup, as he single-handedly inspired his team to lift the Cup.

One of the main reasons Diego is still worshipped is that he won the trophy with his heart firmly stitched on to his sleeve. When he lifted the Cup and kissed it, adulation in the stadium was inter-planetary. It will be extremely hard for Messi to get anywhere near that level of reverence - that’s not to say that Messi doesn’t love his mother country as much as Il Pibe, but the perception is that his country does not reciprocate that level of devotion. Going into his third tournament, as Messi has this summer, 1990 saw Diego lead La Albiceleste to the final again, only losing through a controversial refereeing decision that saw Germany given an undeserved penalty. 

Whilst Messi continues to close on Diego’s eight goals over three-and-half World Cups, with five so far to his name in 11 appearances, his former Coach’s shadow remains ever-present. The day after his last minute goal that won the game against Iran was the anniversary of Maradona's one-man annihilation of England in Mexico. As noted Argentinean writer Martin Caparros reminds us: “Maradona had the enormous advantage that he didn’t have to be like anyone else, and Messi has to be like Maradona all the time.”

Of course stats cannot tell the whole story and Diego exemplified the ability to succeed and no matter the obstacle, achieve something, and that is why he is still revered by several generations. “Maradona always took charge of the team,” said former Argentinean manager Cesar Luis Menotti recently. “Diego naturally took responsibility. Instead Messi plays a part, important though it is, in the operations of an orchestra as finely tuned as Barcelona.”

In conclusion I am not denying Messi is not a fabulous player and like Maradona he was blessed at birth to be one of the greatest, but it must be taken into account that up this point, Messi has not faced assassins like Inter’s Beppe Bergomi, Milan’s Franco Baresi, Sampdoria’s Pietro Vierchowod or Diego’s own nemesis from Spain, the ‘Butcher of Bilbao’ Andoni Goikoetxea, on a weekly basis.

In the World Cup, the tournament of tournaments, the very apex of football, only those that have won it can be considered among the very best, even if obvious exceptions remain - Johan Cruyff and Alfredo Di Stefano for two. On this alone, as great as Messi is, in my opinion, he can never hope to be judged on the same level as Maradona until he at least achieves that pinnacle of international recognition and success.

Have your say...
Milan's maildini said messi has surpassed maradona last year...
I think so that. Maradona won Serie A...Messi won La liga, but Messi haven't played with a team like Maradon's Napoli. The other way, Maradona hadn't acheived with Barcelona before he came napoli. Messi has become winner with La liga, Champions league...over 20 throphy and 5 ballons. Maradona didn't like that.
on the 30th March, 2016 at 12:39pm
maradona.... maradona.... maradona.... maradona....
the only name that i always remember for football. really love this small man, so exciting to watch . full of magic . always diego the best man in football history
on the 23rd June, 2015 at 6:24am
For me it's Maradona. He played for Napoli with pretty much average players while Messi plays for Barca with other big guns in the team. Maradona was able to bring the best out of average players and turn them into superstars. The former was able score against the ruteless Italian defenders without the protection afforded to Messi. When he left Napoli the team went into free fall while the same cannot be said of Barcelona. Maradona dominated the WC in 1986 which no other player has been able to.
on the 30th March, 2015 at 2:28am
Well done @ Sanrella. Now we can stop comparing. As a Napoli fan who lived the Maradona years it's difficult to accept that there is or was anybody in his league. There is no doubt that What we have seen Messi do in the last 5-6 years does suggest that he has been the greatest player ever since Maradona.......However that title I believe, now after this WC confirms "undisputedly" that Maradona is and has been the GREATEST EVER! Messi can have the title as 2nd best Argentinian.
on the 14th July, 2014 at 1:50pm
After this world cup I think it's pretty safe to say
Maradona is streets ahead of Messi.

Now hopefully people will stop comparing the two.
on the 14th July, 2014 at 7:42am
Great players are born from moments of greatness - cryuff had his cruyff turn, Maradona had the 1986 world cup, Baggio had the 1990 world cup, Romario the same, do Stefano and Puskas had Real Madrid 5x European cups in a row all these players did something that last in people's minds and perceptions, Messi so far has never reached this perception as he still hasn't had his great moment ability wise he is on his own at this moment in time but Maradona still did far more incredible things.
on the 9th July, 2014 at 9:05am
Maradona had skills only Maradona had.. Messi, is fast, but not that skillful, he is a goal scorer, his team mates help him to score.. Maradona is sooooooooooooooooo skillful, he used to have magic in his feet.
on the 7th July, 2014 at 9:39pm
I don't know what this has to do with Italian Football, But Messi is the greatest.

Alongside with Zidane, Messi and him are the greatest I have seen.
on the 7th July, 2014 at 9:11pm
Just to throw you a stat as I know you love stats. 1986/87 season when Napoli won the league, after adjusting to 3 points for a win as it was 2 points then; Napoli had 57 pts while Udinese, who came last had 30 pts = 27pts diff. Barcelona in 2013 won the league with 100pts, team that came 3rd Atletico had 76pts = 24pts diff. Zaragoza came last with 34pts = 66pts diff while the team that came 16th Osasuna as there were 16 teams in Serie A then, had 39pts = 61pts away. Diff level of competition
on the 7th July, 2014 at 8:14pm
for you to compare. It does really annoy me when people compare players having not seen 1 on a regular basis. FYI I have seen 95% of Barcelona games since Rikjard's era due to SKY's obsession with them. Do i think Messi is 1 of the best that has ever lived? Yes. Is he in my all time top 8? No. Is is a fact he is not 1 of the top 10 players to have ever lived ? No it is my opinion. If he wins the world cup will my opinion change? No. Why? Because he did not dominate it and there have been better
on the 7th July, 2014 at 5:50pm
I am sorry I didnt know that saying Messi is better than Figo, Gullit, DP. Totti, CR7 etc was such an insult on the man. Its always the same with Messi fans, it does not matter that you say he is better than millions of other footballers but as you say 1 is better than he is they go mad. Stick all those stats somewhere where they belong as they are irrelevant or else i'll regard Klose as the best ever striker in the world cup. @Harry out of all those players which ones did you watch regularly
on the 7th July, 2014 at 5:43pm
Do we honestly believe that Messi’s not a better footballer than Henry, Iniesta, Xavi and Toure and that Ronaldinho, Zidane , Baggio and Ronaldo are all better than Messi . While he’s got more goals and assists than anyone because his team has supposedly 75% possession. You don’t get most goals and assists because you have most possession, you do it because you are better than anyone else. If he is the focal point, it’s because he is that good. He makes goals for his teammates, not the other way round. At this world cup, he’s had less shots at goal than some of his teammates, he makes his own goals, as we’ve already seen
That’s why he’s compared to Maradona, not the names mentioned above.
on the 7th July, 2014 at 7:02am
Ital2, I have no problem sayng that Messi is just as good as Maradona, whether he wins the world cup or not. If I had to choose one it’s maybe Maradona but either way how can you choose. They’re both great. And Denis, you’ve again come up with the same irrelevant arguments. Those who don‘t want to acknowledge he’s one of the all time greats will pull out all sorts of excuses from picking out certain matches, teammate making him look good etc. Messi just had has most interrupted season ever yet still was still amazing by anyone else’s standards . And as I pointed out, he’s scored half or Argentina’s goals and played a part in most others at this World Cup. What will the next objection be, that his teammates have been disappointing and it’s making him look good. Or, he’s scored goals but not dominated games?
on the 7th July, 2014 at 6:42am
@ Denis and Harry
If Argentina wins the World Cup, will both of you concede that Messi and Maradona are even as for who is the best???
on the 6th July, 2014 at 7:45pm
Harry went on to say when Ronaldinho went into decline so did Barcelona. You call being beaten by on head to head but with superior goals for, in decline? Milan is in decline, United is in decline, Barcelona was not in decline. They were in decline when Ronaldinho revatilised them but just needed a bit of tweaking when Pep took over. Henry, Toure, Iniesta and Xavi played huge roles too. I give you that Messi is a superior athlete to all those I mentioned but not a superior footballer.
on the 6th July, 2014 at 7:09pm
As 4 the Atletico game, he looked offside when he scored but that is all he did against Atletico in 6 games. Maradona gets injured for Napoli then they really suffer. Messi gets injured for Barcelona, Pedro, Alexis and Neymar come into the fore and score more goals as they dont have to worry about making Messi great. Ibra gets shunted to the right to accommodate him; Villa the same. I watch Barcelona always and I never go by stats. Best since Diego? No as Baggio, ZZ, R9 and Ronaldinho r better
on the 6th July, 2014 at 6:57pm
Then from Guardiola's 4th season to date, Messi became too involved, going into midfield to receive the ball, taking away from Xavi n Iniesta, his goals became more as did his assists but the team became weaker as others' roles were reduced. Seriously dude he plays for a team that has 75% of possession against most sides in the league and he is the focal point so of cos he would score tons. If u have played the game and being with sides that r much better u'd know how easy its to score
on the 6th July, 2014 at 6:43pm
@Harry what a typical Messi fan will come with. You do not call him the greatest it is because you are jealous. I'm not jealous and I believe I did call him great. Anyone that brings up stats when comparing players loses my respect. Of course he will top goalcsoring and assists if the philosophy is always pass the ball to him. Guardiola's 1st 3 seasons they were great because Messi's role was important but not all encompassing. He scored goals but so did others. Xavi and Iniesta were important
on the 6th July, 2014 at 6:38pm
Of course the defenders Maradona played against were better. Serie A in the 80’s and 90’s was not only the best of it’s time, it was the best league ever. However, you can’t discount Messi because the Spanish defenses aren’t as good. He scores at a rate about twice as good as Maradona. Maradona would be scoring more today as well but surely not more than double. Also, Messi has played the same amount of games for Argentina with more goals than Maradona. I still say that Maradona is probably slightly better than Messi.
However, those who don’t want to believe Messi is great will come up with all sorts of objections from his teammates made him look good to he didn’t perform in certain games to he doesn’t play against great defences. They mean nothing, because when you weigh up what he’s achieved at 27 years of age they’re just sideline arguments which are crushed under a weight of amazing achievements, both team and personal.
on the 6th July, 2014 at 2:37pm
Maradona is the greatest, but those who rubbish Messi do so out of either hatred or jealousy and are ignoring the facts. He’s easily the best player since Maradona. His teammates don’t make him look good. When Ronaldinho, the next best player, declined, so did Barcelona, while they again rose to greatness when Messi emerged. For most of the last six to seven years he’s not only topped the goal scoring but also assists. So much for his teammates making him look good if he’s continually setting up goals for them Check the records. Those who have watched him at this World Cup will have noticed that he takes relatively few shots, being more concerned with playing his teammates on, yet he’s still scored half or Argentina’s goals. People can have opinions but if they’re not based on fact they mean nothing . And as for Dennis’ comment, if you bothered to research the facts, Messi’s disallowed goal against Atletico was onside as it came off an Atletico player. If the linesman hadn’t made that mistake Messi’s goal would have been title winning. Again, if opinions aren’t based on facts they’re meaningless.
on the 6th July, 2014 at 2:22pm
Last season was the 1st time in Messi's la liga career that more than 2 teams could win the title and he failed to inspire his side even after Atletico almost threw it away. Compare that to inspiring Napoli to 2 scudetti and 1 UEFA cup against some of the top sides in the last 30 years and def in Milan the best club side ever. Yet Napoli reg beat them. I remember 1 coppa game where Bari beat Napoli 1-0 without Diego and lost 8-2 or was it 7-1 in Naples with his having a hand in about 6 of them.
on the 5th July, 2014 at 11:29pm
For me the main difference between the 2 is that Maradona made good teammates look great while Messi makes great teammates look average as they are supposed to play for him. If you tweak the team a bit then Messi becomes less effective. I do not think the gap between them is small like some do as I do think Messi is great but not as good as Zico, Baggio, Platini, Pele, R9 and Zidane. Too many players are made less effective just for him to shine. Media makes far too much of him too.
on the 5th July, 2014 at 11:25pm
@ Aussie Bob

Great retort. Maradona did not have the players around him as does Messi. Like I said earlier, the defenses that Maradona played against does not compare to those of the Spanish league. In fact, the Spanish league has poor defense. Messi in Italy or Ronaldo would not score half the goals they score today.
Also, I hope Holland wins the world cup. This way Italy stills hold 2nd place in the World
on the 5th July, 2014 at 2:39pm
@ Ital2-Maradona & the Napoli team just clicked. Could it have been a coincident? Coach? Luck? God? I say NO. He was able to affect his team mates, supporters & the city. He affected them not only the way he played but what he said before & after a games. He made that whole team full of greats. De Napoli, Ferrara Renica, Bagni & remember he was the only foreigner from that team. Maradona was & is the greatest. End of story
on the 5th July, 2014 at 12:11pm
Even if they win world cup... still maradona.
If messi wins another champions league, league, anything, it will still be maradona.
Messi is the best player in the world without shadow of a doubt, professional on and off the pitch an excellent example of how players should be but maradona is something else and diffrent class. Modern day players are just a bunch of over paid egotistic media hungry half wits. Keep the ronaldo, balotelli, neymars, id pick a maradona or baggio over all!
on the 5th July, 2014 at 9:51am
Maradona was more than a footballer. Maradona + Naples is more than a footballer and a city. You can describe the city by its appearance and you can describe Maradona on a pitch technically, but its hard to describe Naples as a city and its hard to describe Maradona as a person and adding those two elements - well - its a bit like seeing a beautiful sky - you can see it, you can feel it, you can sense it, but you cant explain why its how it is.
on the 5th July, 2014 at 9:50am
Of course its difficult to compare players from different eras as the game has changed. Messi is given more protection than Maradona ever received. Messi is a great player, and certainly the best in the world at the moment but Maradona went to a Napoli side and turned them into a title winning side in the at the time best league in the world. Messi has always been at one of the worlds best clubs. This does not take his achievement away but you question was Messi or Maradona. My choice MARADONA
on the 5th July, 2014 at 9:03am
Aussie Bob...good Point

I was honored to see Maradona play every week and was always entertained by his brilliance. The man was a genius on the ball. He played week in and week out against the best defenses in the world at that time. Messi is a great player… no doubt, but I think the defenses he plays in Spain pale in comparison that Maradona played against… anyone disagrees??
on the 4th July, 2014 at 10:31pm
Maradona would entertain you for the full 90 minutes - you would experience all the emotions that football has on offer - Messi on the other hand - he gives you 5 minutes
on the 4th July, 2014 at 8:57pm
of course there will never be another Maradona but do not side line Messi. He is a fantastic footballer. It’s the media that claims Messi is better. Messi is humble and a gentlemen. By the way, if Argentina wins the world cup, will that put Messi on par with Maradona??
Maradona carried Napoli on his back. Messi has great players around him....respond please.
on the 4th July, 2014 at 7:48pm

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