Debate over the ‘world’s greatest player’ has long since raged. One man, though, is very definite in the opinion he harbours.
Maradona versus Pele? Messi versus Ronaldo? It is the Argentines who come out on top.
That the vanguard of such view happens to be Diego Maradona himself matters not, for it is a judgement which the majority would pass.
King of the dribble: Lionel Messi, the best player in the world according to Diego Maradona, takes on six Manchester United players in the 2011 Champions League final
The 52-year-old is unwavering in his assertion that he was better than Pele and compatriot Lionel Messi is superior to Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport, the World Cup winner was quick to remind everyone of his FIFA Footballer of the Century prize when pressed on the issue of ‘greatest ever’.
‘I came out on top in terms of votes and the opinions of the fans. Pelé came second,’ said Maradona, ‘Even in Brazil (Pele came second), where Ayrton Senna was voted the most popular Brazilian sportsperson of all time.
‘As I’ve already won so much in my career Pelé’s friends needed to give him some sort of recognition (the award of ‘Second Best Footballer of the Century’), which really means absolutely nothing!’
And, of the modern-day debate, Maradona pointed to Messi’s ability to slalom through opposition defences as the dividing factor in his duel with Ronaldo.
‘Today, Leo is the No.1 footballer in the world,’ he said, ‘Followed by Ronaldo, Neymar and Balotelli and perhaps by a handful of others.
‘The difference between Cristiano and Messi? Cristiano kicks the ball in a way Messi can’t, but Messi has the ability to get through a group of five players, something the Real player just can’t do.’
With next summer’s World Cup returning to South America for the first time since 1978 – when Argentina triumphed in their homeland – Maradona believes that the current vintage, inspired by Messi, can compete for the trophy after a poor showing in 2010 when they were thrashed 4-0 by Germany at the quarter-final stage.
‘Messi’s performances in the 2010 World Cup didn’t disappoint me,’ he added.
‘Luck wasn’t on his side and he didn’t score, but he had an extraordinary tournament. When Argentina were eliminated I could see that he was more upset than anyone else.
‘Hopefully he can have his revenge soon, but it will be tough to beat Spain and Brazil to the trophy. The competition will be won by a team from South America, I’m certain of that.’
In the mix: Neymar (left) and Mario Balotelli are among the world’s best, says Maradona