8 Mar 2012

Maestro Messi on top of the world

Lionel Messi is the first ever player to score five goals in a single European Champions league match, so has he claimed his place amongst the greats? Lifelong football fan Malcolm Boughen reports.

Lionel Messi, the first man to score 5 goals in a Champions League game (reuters)

As someone who’s been watching football for (almost) the last 50 years, I know quality when I see it. From my early days at Blundell Park – watching Grimsby Town struggling away in the old Fourth Division – through many happy years at Filbert Street – watching Leicester City yo-yoing between the first and second tiers of English football, I’ve seen all sorts of players of all sorts of quality.

Some of Leicester’s top players – the likes of Frank Worthington, Keith Weller and Gary Lineker to name but three – have quickened the blood down the years. At the beginning of this season we even had the stars of Real Madrid, among them Christiano Ronaldo and Kaka, for a friendly at what’s now the King Power Stadium.

But even they cannot rival the sublime skills of Lionel Messi. You have to go back to the greats of the 20th Century – Pele, Diego Maradona, George Best and Johann Cruyff – before you can begin to find any rivals for the title of “The Greatest Ever”.

Such a title is, of course, pretty meaningless. If Pele had played for the top European club side taking part in the Champions League this year, could he have rivalled Messi’s achievements? 53 goals in 49 matches for club and country this season, seven hat-tricks – and now the first man ever to score five goals in a single Champions League game.

And it’s not just the goals. It’s the movement, the vision, the change of pace, the ball control. At 24 Messi is arguably still not at his peak. Small in stature, he’s frequently compared to Maradona – though without the propensity to cheat and take drugs, which ultimately destroyed his Argentinian predecessor’s reputation and his career.

In performance terms, he is much more like Pele – voted player of the century in 1999, the brazilian won his first of three World Cups in 1958 at just 17 years old. The 1962 World Cup followed and – although he and his country were literally kicked out of contention in 1966, he returned gloriously to lead his country to the most impressive of victories in 1970.

But having spent the vast majority of his club career with the Brazilian side, Santos, it is imposible to compare his performances in that sphere with Messi.

The great man himself – now 71 – was quoted last year as saying that Messi was still “an incomplete player, because he can’t use his head”.

Certainly the Argentinian has some way to go before he can match the 20-year achievements of Pele, after all he has not yet even one World Cup in his locker, but at just five foot six and a half inches tall, he remains head and shoulders above any current rival anywhere in the world.