Comparing players from different eras is an impossible task. Hypothesising how Pele, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi would fare on the same pitch is an interesting exercise, but due to the different ages they played their football in, a difficult one to achieve.
This has not stopped all and sundry bestowing the mantle of GOAT (greatest of all time) on the young Argentine. His five-goal master-class against Bayer Leverkusen prompted this hyperbole, although the consistency of Messi suggests the praise he is receiving is not excessive. His performance this week was not a one-off. Those who bet with Bet Victor will know just how good he is.
In truth not everyone is sharing the Messi love-in; Pele himself has questioned the Barcelona man’s credentials, suggesting, like a Liverpool fan talking to a Manchester United fan in the last two decades, that Messi should come back when he has scored more than 1,283 career goals.
Crude statistics of course favour the Brazilian legend, but comparing the Brazilian league in the 1960swith modern European football is the personification of comparing apples and oranges. Maradona, never backward in criticising his long-standing rival for title of GOAT, has suggested Pele not performing in European club football precludes him from being on the pedestal many have him. Fans of Victor Chandler will have their own views.
Less tangible measures are needed. Technique, skill and ability to excite favour Maradona, as does the ability to change teams being played in (Brazil would probably have won the World Cups Pele played in without him; Argentina would certainly not have lifted the 1986 trophy without their talisman). Messi has furthest to go in this regard – he is often a shadow of his Barcelona self for the national team.
Comparing players with their own peers is also instructive; how much better than the rest are they? If Messi keeps winning Ballon d’Or awards and scoring a goal-a-game in the Champions League, then his suitability to be called GOAT will continue to increase.