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If Argentina win the World Cup, will Messi finally sit alongside Maradona, Pele?

Jul 10, 2014, 2:07 PM EDT

Brazil Soccer WCup Netherlands Argentina AP

Diego Maradona. Pele. Lionel Messi?

After Argentina won their World Cup semifinal against the Netherlands on Wednesday to set up a final with Germany on Sunday at the Maracana, Messi now has a shot at winning the first World Cup title of his career.

Here’s the big question everyone is asking: if Argentina win the World Cup, will Messi be mentioned in the same sentence as Maradona and Pele for the rest of time? Yes.

[ RELATED: Explaining Messi’s stinker ]

Despite some lackluster displays this season, even in this tournament, Messi deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Pele and Maradona IF he wins the World Cup. During this World Cup he has created chances and scored four goals, most at pivotal moments, which have helped to drag Argentina through to the final against Germany. This may be the only shot Messi gets at winning the biggest title in soccer. If he wants to be a soccer god, he must lead Argentina to glory.

source: AP

Maradona led Argentina to glory in ’86.

If Messi turns on the magic and shines against Germany his name will be etched into the history books as the man who won it all. Pele and Maradona never won the UEFA Champions League. They never won the World Player of the Year title four times like Messi has (but only because the FIFA World Player of the Year did not begin until 1991) and he has already collected a plethora of club titles neither won.

The only trophy which has so far eluded the 27-year-old superstar is the World Cup. He’s arguably surpassed them both at club level, now his genius must be confirmed by hoisting the World Cup.

He has won the Champions League three times with Barcelona, scoring in both of the finals he played in. However Pele won three World Cups. Maradona won one. Messi, so far, has none. That has to change for him to be considered as an all-time great of the game. It has to.

Argentina win on PKs | Messi’s stinker | Messi the world’s best? |

At this World Cup Messi has captained Argentina and been tightly marked by two, three or four opposition defenders at times. In the opening match against Bosnia he scored a beautiful goal after a jinxing run for just the second WC goal of his career, then in the dying stages against Iran he weaved past defenders and curled a stunning shot in to give Argentina a crucial 1-0 win. To round off the group stages he then scored two against Nigeria, one a sumptuous free kick, as he led by example. However in knockout games against Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands he has gone quiet. When Pele and Maradona won the World Cup, they were pivotal in their teams success. Messi has to be the main man in the Maracana on Sunday if Argentina are to topple Germany.

For a number of reasons, as my PST colleague Mike Prindiville explains here, Messi has struggled to deliver the goods in the knockout stage after promising so much in the group stage. Some reasons here: the three aforementioned teams are three of the best defensive teams on the planet, plus Argentina play in a much more defensive nature, so when Messi does get the ball he has little support.


Pele won three World Cups with Brazil during their golden era.

However when Argentina have really needed him in this tournament he has come up big.

Think back to that curler vs. Iran in the last second of the match. The defense-splitting pass for Angel di Maria to score and beat Switzerland in the round of 16. Those moments show that when his side is up against it, unlike in the past, Messi is the inspirational leader for this Argentine team.

After his side went 120 grueling minutes against Holland and the Germans had an extra day of rest before the final, Argentina’s players will be exhausted for Sunday’s final.

Now is Messi’s time to shine. Now is the perfect time to prove he deserves to be deemed as a soccer god alongside Maradona and Pele. That’s my opinion, below are the facts on how great Messi is, and how great Maradona and Pele were.


Lionel Messi

World Player of the Year awards: 4
World Cups: None
Continental titles: Three
League titles: Six
Total apps/goals: 457 apps, 354 goals
International apps/goals: 93 apps, 42 goals


World Player of the Year awards: N/A
World Cups: 3
Continental titles: Two
League titles: Seven
Total apps/goals: 763 apps, 707 goals (including friendlies, 1115 apps, 1088 goals)
International apps/goals: 92 apps, 77 goals

Diego Maradona

World Player of the Year awards: N/A
World Cups: 1
Continental titles: None
League titles: Five
Total apps/goals: 588 apps, 312 goals
International apps/goals: 91 games, 34 goals

  1. bojangles83 - Jul 10, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    Among? No. Above those guys.

    • 4thquartermagic - Jul 10, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      These types of conversations are always futile because everyone is biased. If you grew up watching a certain great, your going to say they were the best.

      I have no pony in this race as a novice football fan.

      But I always give the benefit of the doubt to those who compete in the modern era because the quality of opponents overall is the best its ever been.

  2. mianfr - Jul 10, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    Pele still looks way better.

    Also, the World Cup really shouldn’t matter for anything beyond an additional game to evaluate by – the actual title aspect needs to be excluded. By doing this you’re saying someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Gareth Bale could never be an all-time great because they happened to be born in Sweden or Wales. At a club level, you can carry your team (and almost certainly would never play for, say, West Brom Albion your whole life), but international tournaments are too long and nuanced with too few opportunities for chemistry building to really hold that against someone.

    Messi (and Ronaldo) rightly rank among those all time greats, but Sunday isn’t going to have anything to do with that.

  3. lyleoross - Jul 10, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    When you write an article, and you tell me that Messi came up big, against, Iran, I have to wonder what you’re thinking. Should Messi have to come up big against Iran? Even Switzerland seems a bit of a reach.

    Once we moved out of group stage where has Messi come up big? Going back two World Cups, how many goals does he have?

    If Argentina wins, then lets talk.

  4. katepery8katepery - Jul 10, 2014 at 4:16 PM


  5. meganephron - Jul 10, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    People forget that if it weren’t for “the hand of God” that Argentina very well may have lost to England. Maradona cheated to score that day. Incompetent ref didn’t call what was obvious to everyone in the stadium and watching on TV. It is a tainted cup at best.

    Messi plays against far superior athletes than either Maradona or Pele. They are all the greatest futbol players of their time. Just as you can’t compare basketball, baseball, football players from the 60’s, 80’s with today’s athletes, you can’t compare Messi with athletes from that era

    • finsfan71 - Jul 10, 2014 at 5:39 PM

      I concur. I love Pele and think he was the greatest when he played. As a Brazilian I can tell you that I did not root for Maradona but the man was brilliant with a futbol. Messi is out of this world and deserves to be in any discussion regarding the greats. But greatest of all-time is just silly talk, they were and are all great based on their accomplishments. Just glad I could see them play.

    • simonkulberg - Jul 11, 2014 at 12:04 PM

      This is not a valid way of looking at things. If Messi had been playing in the 60s he`d have been training the same as the other players and would have been as slow/fast as they were and vice versa. Nobody is denying that the game has changed – mostly for the worse I think – because there is less space in the modern game since it`s now more about fitness and running a lot than creativity and passing. The problem since the 70s is that defensive, dirty football almost always wins out over pure skill. For example, as good as the Italian World Cup champion side of 1982 was, it managed to beat Brazil by constantly pulling shirts and constantly fouling Zico in particular. This would have been unheard of ten years earlier and is extremely unsporting.
      But since it succeeded at every single World Cup from then on, and arguably in 1978 as well, it has now become the norm, and you can see corner kicks in replay sometimes where every single player on both teams is holding someone.
      Because of these changes strikers succeed or fail more dependent on their pace and acceleration than actual skill these days, and I think Messi fits in that category to some extent as well. Of course he`s good, but if he wasn`t lightning fast he would fail anyway.
      In my mind nobody has ever played attractive football and succeeded at a World Cup since 1970, and basically nobody has even bothered trying since 1986. The 1982 Brazil squad is quite possibly the best football team I have ever seen play at a World Cup, or anywhere else for that matter, and they “failed” from the perspective of modern, results obsessed football. Football failed I would say. As one of those guys said later:

      “In 1970 the average Brazilian football player ran 4km. Today it`s 10km, and space has reduced greatly. It has stifled creativity because no one has enough time on the ball. Given these changes, I think the game should be played with just nine players on each side, to recreate the spirit the game is meant to be played in.” – Socrates

      To me you`re looking at a game wrecked by profit and an obsession with winning rather than entertaining and providing a meaningful spectacle for the audience. It is a corrupt, violent and basically sociopathic exercise. I wouldn`t blame anyone for putting players who performed before these changes took place, such as Pelè, on pedestals while spitting on modern cynics and bred race horses like Messi. it can never be the same again, at least not until FIFA starts listening to some of the things Socrates had to say about the sport.

      Just take a look at these guys! I wouldn`t have put Messi on the bench of this team. If I could have Ronaldo as striker instead of Serginho it would have been perfect. And that`s why I`ll never agree that Messi is the GOAT or anywhere close to it. And I don`t care about his stats.

  6. pdx84 - Jul 10, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    “However Pele won three World Cups. Maradona won one. Messi, so far, has none. That has to change for him to be considered as an all-time great of the game. It has to.”

    Oh FFS. Messi won’t be considered an all-time great if he doesn’t win a world cup? Don’t just write words for the sake of writing words.

    • mmrhow - Jul 10, 2014 at 11:30 PM

      Yes the idiocy of this kind of article is that it implies that somehow Cruyff or Platini somehow weren’t great players, after all they never won a World Cup. Also how about Eusebio, Best, Van Basten, or Puskas. Oh wait the writer probably hasn’t heard ot them or just doesn’t think they were any good. Most of the articles here combines the worst of sportswriting cliches with total ignorance of the history of the sport.

  7. handsofsweed - Jul 10, 2014 at 9:28 PM

    Maradona, yes. Pele, no.

  8. jucam1 - Jul 11, 2014 at 1:36 AM

    The most overrated player in history is messi. He’s good, but not even close to Pele and the all time greats. Messi just happens to be surrounded by a good team. Unless something weird happens, Germany will dominate a decent Argentine team. Messi has been a massive disappointment this cup. The Germans like the Dutch will frustrate the hell out of that tiny overrated man,

  9. mox19380 - Jul 11, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    I have a tough time comparing Pele’s club play with Maradona’s and especially Messi’s. Messi is competing against FAR better talent on the club level. That said both Maradona and Pele played far better in international competition which is really where the comparisons are being made.

    Messi has had a far more illustrious club run than either Pele or Maradona. If not for a little bit of cheating Maradona wouldn’t even have a world cup (but we shouldn’t ignore his phenomenal play that got them to that point). Pele obviously is far superior in his international record but it’s also fair to say that his cast in Brazil was better than Messi’s

    IF Messi wins Sunday I definitely think he deserves to be considered among those greats and I’d go so far to say that he deserves to be 2nd in ranking IF Pele, Maradona, and Messi are the benchmarks for greatness

  10. dkalev - Jul 11, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    Maradona Pele CR7 Messi… When all said and done, they can be spoken of in the same breath… However, by far, GOAT is Zinedine Zidane.

  11. gvera7 - Jul 13, 2014 at 2:28 PM

    Reminds me of Lebron James and Michael Jordan there’s still a long road for messi

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