Lionel Messi has finally done it. The Argentinian ended the drought for his country after a trophyless 28 years, winning his first-ever major title with his national team. 1993 was the last time the South Americans got their hands on an international trophy, this time against Brazil and in their home ground. El Maracanzo 2.0. This Copa America win has finally put an end to Messi's criticism in his 17 years while wearing the Albiceleste colors. Notwithstanding, does Messi´s 2021 Copa America win put him over Cristiano Ronaldo, Maradona, Pele, and other football greats?
What is the GOAT debate?
GOAT stands for Greatest Of All Time. The title was given to the best player that the world has ever seen in a particular sport. The debate is included in soccer, basketball, football, and many other sports separately. It is a privilege to be considered for this title. However, it also comes with a lot of criticism. The fans and media take talent, hard work, and winning into consideration. Therefore, the selection of candidates is limited in every sport. Nonetheless, for the sake of this article, we will focus on the GOAT in soccer.
Lionel Messi was already in the conversation; how could he not, but who else joins Messi on this debate? Of course, football fans are divided in this conversation, and that's normal, considering everyone has the right to have their own opinion. However, the ones who are always in the conversation with Messi are Maradona, Pele, and Cristiano Ronaldo. In addition, some honorable mentions are legends such as Johan Cruyff and Ronaldo Nazario. Nevertheless, most fans and analysts have Messi, Maradona, Pele, and Ronaldo (The Portuguese one) in the GOAT conversation, and rightfully so
The GOAT debate is extremely debatable, which is part of why writing this article is fun. Football fans will never agree on who truly is the GOAT. The Argentinians will say Messi or Maradona (depending on your age), while the Portuguese will say Cristiano Ronaldo, and Brazilians will say Pele. Despite all of this, Lionel Messi has taken a step forward in this GOAT conversation after his Copa America campaign earlier this month. Here is his comparison to the other greats in this debate.
Messi vs Pele
Comparing Lionel Messi to Pele is not easy. One plays in a more modern era while the other is part of the classical era of football. Therefore, it is unclear if Pele would have been able to perform as well as Messi in an era where there are better and more physical players. Nevertheless, Pele was, without a doubt, a pioneer. The man who invented beautiful football, ahead of his time. Messi, however, has better numbers and has played against tougher competition.
In 2020, Lionel Messi broke Pele's single club scoring record with 644 goals over 17 seasons. A record that stood for 46 years and will most probably never be broken again. Messi also wins the head-to-head battle at the club. The Argentinian has won a club-record 34 trophies. On the other hand, Pele has won over 20 trophies at Santos, the most victorious period in the club´s history. Messi (76) is just one goal away from becoming the top South American goalscorer at the international level, overtaking Pele (77). But the Brazilian has won the World Cup three times, a prize the Messi is still yet to achieve.
It is safe to say that these players have had great careers at both club and international levels. However, Messi´s achievements are more valuable as modern football is clearly a step ahead. Not to mention that it comes with more pressure after the rise of social media. Messi has been a public figure for over a decade and is playing at the highest level of European football, which Pele could not do. Overcoming that pressure adds value to what Messi achieved, which is why the Argentinian has the edge over the Brazilian.
Messi vs Maradona
Probably the hardest comparison in terms of style of play. Diego Armando Maradona and Lionel Andres Messi are very similar players. Both from Argentina, both captains, same height, left-footed...very similar to each other. They both had great careers, but Maradona´s club resume is nothing compared to the Barcelona captain. The only reason why Maradona was seen as a better player was because of his success with the national team. Diego managed to win two World Cups for the South Americans, 1978 and 1986. While Messi failed to win the only World Cup final, he has ever played. This had fans, especially the Argentinians, thinking that Messi would never be in the same conversation as Maradona without an International trophy.
Now that Leo has finally won that elusive trophy with Argentina, there are no excuses why Maradona has the edge over Messi. Yes, he did win two World Cup titles in an era of good football. However, Messi completely dominates at the club level. Maradona has won 9 compared to Messi´s 35, a big difference. In addition, Messi (76) has scored 42 more goals than Maradona (34) for the national team and the Albiceleste, this year's Copa America. A trophy that Maradona never won for his country.
Maradona was a great player, one of the best, but his time as a football player was short and not as successful as Messi´s. His problems off the pitch did not allow Maradona to play as many years as Leo and at such a high level. At age 34, Maradona was close to retirement, and Messi is close to his 7th Ballon d´Or.
Messi vs Ronaldo
The biggest debate of the last 15 years. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Who is the GOAT and the greatest talent of this generation?
Messi and Ronaldo are exceptional players who are part of an exceptionally challenging debate. They are both very different players. Ronaldo is a pure number ´9´ while Messi is an all-around player. To determine who the GOAT is, a head-to-head showdown must take place. Both are equally hard-working, but Messi is more talented as he can do more than just score goals. An all-around superstar who can do everything on the pitch and brings more than just goals. Messi and Ronaldo have done nothing but win. They are still the best in the world at their age, playing at the highest level of football.
Head to head showdown: Messi or Ronaldo?
Messi´s Copa America win pretty much ends what Ronaldo fans had against the Argentinian. He finally won at the international level, something that Ronaldo had previously accomplished in 2016. Messi (36) has more trophies than the Portuguese (30) but has played in better teams than Ronaldo. In addition, the Argentinian has a better goal ratio despite playing two fewer years. The career assists are not even close; Messi has assisted 226 times for Barcelona while Ronaldo stands at 139. This shows that Messi is not only a better goalscorer than the Portuguese, but he is also a better playmaker and has a bigger impact on the game.
In their national teams, Ronaldo and Messi have rather similar numbers. Ronaldo (109) has greater scoring numbers; however, partly because he began his international career 2 years before Messi. In international trophies, Ronaldo has won the EURO and the Nations League. Messi himself was crowned Copa America champion this year and has played more International finals than the Portuguese. Also, Messi has one more Ballon d'Or in head-to-head individual awards and is projected to win another one this season.
Messi not winning a trophy for Argentina was the only thing that kept him from being acknowledged as the Greatest player ever to play football. In comparison to some of the GOATs, the stats favor Messi, and so are the club trophies. Now, Leo has won Copa America while being named best player and top scorer. Does that really end this debate? Yes, it does. However, the GOAT debate will continue.