It came as no surprise to any soccer fan in the world that Barcelona’s Lionel Messi won a third consecutive Ballon d’OR last week.
After all, he is simply the best in the world, and by some distance. Some of the younger soccer fans will also believe that the Argentine is the greatest footballer of all time, but us older hands would have to disagree.
Certainly an argument could be put up for Messi to be regarded as one of the greatest ever club players seen.
But, unfortunately, his arrival on the world stage has come at a time when his national football team is a long way below the standard required to crown a true soccer legend who has achieved greatness at both domestic and international levels.
Messi's compatriot—and, ironically, his former international boss—Diego Maradona played for an Argentina team that won the World Cup in 1986 and were at the forefront of international football throughout the late 1980's all the way up to the 1990 World Cup, where they narrowly missed out on winning the title for the second time in as many tries.
Mradona was the jewel in that particular Argentina side's crown, and he quite rightly earned the reputation of being one of the best to ever play the game.
Maradona was every bit of a sensation at his Italian club side, Napoli, as Messi is at Barcelona. And, although Napoli achieved nothing like the legendary success that Barcelona has enjoyed with Messi, Maradona's contribution to a club the size of Napoli at the time was legendary.
Pele is still the player that would probably win the vote for the world’s greatest ever player. Like Maradona, the Brazilian legend enjoyed huge success at both international and club level.
Pele's unforgettable performances in the 1970 World Cup are still recalled today, and that particular Brazil team is still regarded as the greatest ever to grace a football pitch.
Just to make the point more emphatically, Pele played 1,114 times for his club, Santos, scoring an incredible 1,088 times. His 92 international outings saw him score 78 goals.
Think about that—Pele averaged almost a goal per game for over 1,000 games played.
He won two World Cup winners medals and scored twice in the 1958 final in Sweden when he was just 17 years old. Thus, there is little argument as to why Pele shouldn't be rated the best player ever.
Other players who have to be considered as being better players than Messi include Johan Cryuff, who, like Messi, was voted as the best player in the world three times.
Cryuff was the genius of the brilliant Dutch side of the 1970's, which narrowly lost the 1974 World Cup final. His performances throughout that tournament triggered comparisons to Pele, with many believing that Cryuff was the better technical player but without the stats to back it up.
That argument will always remain subjective.
Domestically, Cruyff played a key role for a great Ajax side that won the European Cup for three successive years from 1971-1973.
There is an argument that Frenchmen Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini—also voted best player in the world three times—were better players than Messi, and both excelled at club and international level.
The same could be said also for Sir Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer, the iconic players for England and Germany, respectively, in the 1960s and early 1970s. Both enjoyed outstanding club careers, Charlton with Manchester United and Beckenbauer with Bayern Munich. Both won European Cup winners medals and a World Cup.
Messi of course is only 24 and has plenty of time left to make his mark on the international game provided Argentina can put together a world-beating team.
Certainly with the players that they have at their disposal, they should already be one of the top teams in the world. If this can be achieved, then Messi fans might well be able to put their idol alongside the likes of Pele and Maradona.
Whilst greatness in any sport cannot be defined by winning trophies alone, it does create a legacy to be remembered.
Although Messi isn't on a yet par with others that have played before him, he is well on his way to becoming the greatest player ever.