Messi or Maradona: part two

Diego Maradona.
Diego Maradona. Getty Images Sport - Chris Cole

ONE day, maybe, Lionel Messi will prove the global game's greatest player, but not yet, and certainly not just because he put five goals past a Bayer Leverkusen defence which had already been taken apart this season by Bundesliga relegation-strugglers Augsburg and Cologne.

>> Latest sport news

Messi may be scoring goals at a rate rarely seen since Dixie Dean's heyday, but he does have the advantage of being at the sharp end of probably the greatest team of all time. Take Messi out of Barcelona and what do you have?

We already have an answer. In the last World Cup Messi failed to score in five matches as Argentina lost in the quarter-final to Germany. It is argued that the Champions League is now a higher standard than the World Cup (not that the presence of Apoel Nicosia in the quarter-finals adds much weight to that view).

Whether it is or not is irrelevant when judging Messi because he is playing for the best team in the competition, a team which even without him would be formidable. A truly great player is capable of turning a moderate team into a winning one. Like Diego Maradona.

English attitudes towards Maradona are understandably coloured by the "Hand of God" goal but his notoriety should not obscure his greatness. Maradona turned base materials into gold on both the club and international stage. Napoli were a shambles when they somehow found the cash to buy him in 1984. Fighting relegation had become a way of life with the club surviving by a point the previous season. Maradona turned them into title contenders and in 1986/87 they won the first scudetto in the club's history. A second Serie A title, and Napoli's first European prize, the Uefa Cup, followed. Since Maradona left, the club have not won a trophy.

Maradona was similarly central to Argentina's 1986 World Cup success. Ten of their 14 goals were scored or created by him, and his five goals included superb ones against England and Belgium of the type now associated with Messi. In the final, after West Germany had come back from 2-0 down to level, he supplied the pass for Jorge Burruchaga to score the winner. All this while carrying a knee injury which had threatened to rule him out of the tournament.

Brian Glanville, in The Story of the World Cup, his history of the competition since 1930, wrote: "It will always be remembered as Maradona's World Cup, seldom has a player, even Pele, so dominated the competition. In an era when individual talent was at a premium, defensive football more prevalent than ever, Maradona - squat, muscular, explosive, endlessly adroit - showed that a footballer of genius could still prevail."

This context is another factor in Maradona's primacy. He formerly played in an era when the tactics were negative and the tackling brutal. Maradona's relative lack of impact at Barcelona, and later decline, had much to do with the injuries he suffered including the notorious ankle-break by Andoni Goikoetxea, the "Butcher of Bilbao". Only after the 1990 World Cup, when Maradona carried to the final an Argentine team which was as guilty of these sins as any, did Fifa begin the crackdown which has allowed players like Messi to flourish.

While Maradona was by some distance the most notable player in the 1986 squad, Messi, in 2010, had the likes of Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Juan Sebastian Veron for company. Yet still he was unable to inspire them, even to the last four. Messi was only 23, but Pele had been part of two World Cup-winning squads at that age, and had scored twice in the 1958 final at 17.

In Europe much of the blame for failure in 2010 was heaped on the fact that Maradona was manager, but in Argentina Messi has borne the brunt of criticism for the albiceleste's struggles. Playing in the Copa America last summer in his home province of Santa Fe, Messi was called "mercenary, Catalonian" (his nickname in Argentina where he is perceived as being more interested in club than his country), before being taunted with chants of "Maradona, Maradona". Maradona was no longer coach but hosts Argentina were still knocked out in the quarter-finals after one win in four matches.

There is, though, hope on the horizon. Under new coach Alex Sabella, Messi scored a hat-trick against Switzerland last month. Should this promise end in triumph in the 2014 World Cup, in Brazil, with Messi playing a prominent part, he will have earned the right to stand alongside Pele and Maradona in the game's pantheon.



Topics:  lionel messi

Dirtgirl creators take home Green Globe

WINNERS: Cate McQuillen and Hewey Eustace pose with Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis after their win at the Green Globe awards.

Cate McQuillen "amazed and exccited" about state award

Police investigate deliberately lit fire north of Grafton

Rural Fire Service Wooli Police copyright Tanja Ackerman2016

Storms hamper crew's efforts to contain bushfire in rugged terrain

Fishing to help community mental health

Organiser Adam Murray (second from left) talks to the group of around 50 people at the August mental health fishing day.

Mental health will be the topic at and event in Harwood this weekend

Local Partners

Is it time for a skate park extension in Yamba?

IF YOU ever want to be truly terrified, swing by the Yamba skate park on any given day.

Grafton does the Time Warpt again

The Time Warpt Dinner and Show is set for the Grafton District Services Club on Saturday night.

Rocky Horror dinner show comes back to Grafton

OPINION: Magpies welcome Binge back to the nest

The Lower Clarence Magpies v Casino RSM Cougars at Maclean Showground. Pictured for the Magpies is Ryan Binge (centre).

Lower Clarence Magpies have good news ahead of AGM.

Natalie returns home to perform at the Country Muster

Natalie Davidson will perform at the Clarence Valley Country Muster on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

There will be one local face on stage at this years country muster

60's British rock legends to return to Australia

The Troggs will play a string of dates across Australia in November.  Photo Contributed

We all remember 'Wild Thing' and now you can hear it live.

Grafton does the Time Warpt again

The Time Warpt Dinner and Show is set for the Grafton District Services Club on Saturday night.

Rocky Horror dinner show comes back to Grafton

Depp jumps ship from agency of 25 years

Johnny Depp has signed to CAA after 25 years with the United

Orlando Bloom 'buried' Katy Perry in birthday flowers

Orlando Bloom "buried" Katy Perry in flowers for her birthday

MacBook fires up: New "touchbar" will include emojis

COULD emojis help the MacBook again deliver a laptop revolution?

Angus T. Jones got miserable on Two and a Half Men

Child star's misery while shooting 'Two and a Half Men'

Want to own one of Australia's best restaurants?

TOP GONG: Mooloolaba Spice Bar has been named in TripAdvisor's Top 10 Australian restaurants for 2016.

Here's your chance to pick up one of the Coast's favourite eateries

Maclean's highest house sale this decade

SOLD: Ray White real estate agent Alan Bruchert has just put a new sticker on Maclean's most expensive house to sell in a decade.

Unique riverfront home sells for more than $920,000

Tough times in CBD: Woolies says goodbye Ipswich

Woolworths in the Ipswich Mall.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times

The last day of trading will be January 1

Look at me! Kath and Kim home up for sale

Kath and Kim from the iconic Aussie TV series.

'Crack open the Baileys and grab a box of BBQ Shapes'

Hinterland horse stud passed in for $8.25 million

UNREAL: This Maleny estate is incredible.

12-bedroom hinterland horse stud still available

Hit songwriter's Noosa mansion on market

SPECIAL PLACE: The Cintamani estate is going to tender, marketed by Tom Offermann Real Estate.

Is this Queensland's best property?