Football’s great but futile ‘best ever’ debate
The manner of Barcelona’s victory over Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final has reopened the debate on whether or not they are the greatest club side of all-time.
A man-of-the-match performance from their Argentinean superstar, Lionel Messi, has also strengthened the claims of those who argue that he is the greatest player of all-time.
It may be hard to disagree on both fronts. After all, Barcelona, under the guidance of current coach, Pep Guardiola, have now won an amazing 10 titles in the past three years.
Messi has constantly tormented opposition defences throughout this period and he ended the current season with an incredible personal tally of 53 goals and 24 assists in 54 appearances for the club.
Former players and football fans have rightfully been lavish in their praise of Messi’s achievements. Earlier this month, Ossie Ardiles, a World Cup winner with Argentina in 1978, voiced his belief that Messi has now overtaken the likes of Diego Maradona and Pele as the greatest footballer of all-time. Yet his main reason for having such an opinion, that “sport has improved”, can also be seen as an argument against making such a claim.
In the interview with ESPN, Ardiles explained that “the modern game helps goalscorers and the ball players; the pitches are better, the boots are better, the rules have been altered to favour the attacking players… the way the players look after their bodies, the way that clubs and national sides employ so many people to look after their bodies, with what they eat, and just about everything you can think of.”
If modern sport has allowed football to gain an advantage, which it evidently has, then it seems unfair to compare current players such as Messi against Pele, Maradona, Puskas, Cruyff or any other former great. Why can’t players simply be the best of their generation? Surely there would be very few who would deny Messi this accolade, particularly with his recent exploits. But stating that he is the best ever? As Ardiles himself admitted, how good could Pele and Maradona have been if they had been playing today?
Many believe that they would have been just as successful. Conversely, some argue that they did not play their football in such an intense and pressure-filled environment, therefore, might not have been able to handle the demands of modern football. No-one will ever know though, which is why such a comparison should not be made.
However, the media has an obsession with placing the best ever name-tag on an individual and then attempt to convince the public to accept their verdict. Last year, Santos’ 19-year-old Brazilian striker Neymar was predicted to become the greatest Brazilian footballer of all-time.
That’s right, a young man with a handful of international experience and goals, expected to overtake the vast achievements of his predecessors. Perhaps the most intriguing angle on Neymar is that comparisons have already been made between his ability and that of Messi’s at the same age. Many believe that he has more skill and potential than Messi did.
So, if Neymar even comes close to matching the achievements of the man currently lauded as the best ever by those in the know, you can guarantee that the little Argentine will be swiftly cast aside. Just look at what happened to Ronaldinho. He was, during his time at Barcelona, spoken of as possibly the best player ever. Just a few years later, and he is seemingly remembered as an outstanding footballer, but no longer spoken of in the same breath as Pele, Maradona or even Messi.
It is clear that footballers need to be remembered for how they performed within the confines of their own generation. As he demonstrated once again, Messi is currently the best of his generation and should be appreciated and respected for that, not pressured by futile claims of definitive supremacy in the history of football.