With the Qatar 2022 World Cup over and Lionel Messi’s Argentine team crowned champion, an old question knocked on my door: who is the best footballer of all time?
A question that, for me, was relatively easy to answer until before the brilliant appearance of La Pulga and that only contemplated two possible answers: Pelé or Maradona. At that time a. M. (before Messi), for me, as for many of my generation (those born in the mid-1970s and early 1980s), the best of all was, without a doubt, Diego Armando Maradona. It was understandable: we hadn’t seen Pelé play, we only knew about his impossible goals, magical dribbling and consecration passes indirectly, from our parents or grandparents. We’re talking about an antediluvian time when there was no internet yet and, therefore, we didn’t have the chance to see the Brazilian star in action thanks to some faded YouTube video. No, at that time who we saw getting tired of scoring goals and fantasy plays with Napoli and their national team was Fluff. We also saw him, of course, in endless entanglements resulting from his nocturnal excesses.
The emotions that the Argentine 10 provided us, on and off the field, always had our hearts beating a thousand times. Personally, I remember my irrepressible joy when I saw Diego on television at the 1994 World Cup in the United States (the first I followed with devotion) spreading hopes on the Foxboro Stadium lawn in Boston. What a joy to see him score Argentina’s third goal against Greece after a beautiful collective play. And it is that everything seemed to clearly announce a new appointment with glory, as in Mexico 86. It seemed to me that I was already seeing how my sports hero raised the golden champion’s cup for the second time. And this time I would witness the feat, they were not going to tell me. But not. He would soon discover that Diego was not a god, but a demigod and, therefore, his human component, imperfect in him, was waiting crouching down to make him fall at any moment. They say that it was true, but they also say that there was a plot against the most rebellious of footballers. The truth is that the anti-doping test that was taken after the match against Nigeria came back positive for two substances prohibited by FIFA. Goodbye to the world “They cut off my legs” sentenced D10S. “The illusion is over” I said to myself crying.
Time passed and, from time to time, the well-known question reappeared: Pelé or Maradona? Despite the fall of my idol, I remained firm in my answer: “Diego, of course, because there will be no other like him.” And Pele? Well, in Pelé’s time football was slower (I explained to my friends), plus O Rei always played alongside geniuses like him (he kept arguing), he never left behind so many rivals from midfield to score a great goal in an important competition (I wasn’t so sure about this, but I said it anyway) and of course, Pelé never scored two memorable goals in the same match for such opposite reasons (“the hand of the devil” and “the foot of God”, like Until now I call those two goals that Diego scored in the Mexico 86 match against the English). But Pelé is the only player who has won three world cups (my friends refuted me), three! Maradona, just one. I didn’t care, I was already part of the Maradona faith when there wasn’t even a church.
Until the new century when Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini appeared. Obviously, at first I was not surprised by his prowess. He was already used to the fact that, from time to time, the “new Maradona” was announced. There were Gallardo, Aimar, Ortega, Tévez, Riquelme, among others. Great cracks, of course, but not at Diego’s level. So that kid Messi, the Flea, would be one more case. Relax, Fluffy, your reign is safe. But not. The entire planet has had the privilege of seeing in action for years, and at its highest level, a true soccer phenomenon, an extraterrestrial, touched by the divine (by Diego?). If I were to list his trophies now, the records he has shattered, his memorable plays… I never finish. What I want to highlight is that this almost supernatural success of Lionel’s made the question that concerns me in this article more complex. And now the question was: who is the best footballer of all time: Pelé, Maradona or Messi? But you know what? I was still calm. Very well, Messi had won almost everything, perfect, except that that “almost” did not hide something small, but rather the World Cup itself! That was the only distance that, for me, separated Lionel from Diego. Hence my mixed feelings when, in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Messi barely missed lifting the cup. It made me very sad, because, in truth, there was no one who deserved it more than him. At the same time, because of my incurable Maradonian faith, I felt joy. We were still up, Diego!
Until it happened. Messi did not throw in the towel (although there was a feint). He matured. He stopped thinking about the goal and concentrated on the path. He returned to his origins: a boy from Rosario who enjoyed playing soccer (“The ball is my friend” as another of my childhood idols, Oliver Atom, would say). And he did it. We have just seen him lift, dressed as a sheikh at a party, the golden trophy that enshrines the Qatar 2022 World Cup champion. Mixed feelings again: it made me very happy, because, in truth, there was no one who deserved the cup more than Messi. At the same time, because of my incurable Maradona faith, sadness. Shall we continue up, Diego? The question had popped into my mind as soon as the infallible Gonzalo Montiel scored the penalty with which the Argentines beat the French: Pelé, Diego or Messi? I was really confused. As if a seminarian began to believe that God does not exist. Complicated situation in the midst of a bombardment of statistics that forcefully showed the exploits of the good Lionel.
Fortunately, after days and nights of torture, I found a remedy for my soccer anxieties while watching a sports program on television. An Argentine panelist commented, in passing, that any comparison between Maradona and Messi was absurd. Each of them played and won at very different times. Soccer has not been the same since the first FIFA World Cup was held in 1930. Therefore, the fairest thing to do is to evaluate by periods. Pelé was the best on the planet until the end of the 1970s; Maradona succeeded him from the 1980s and since the beginning of the 21st century the crown has been worn by Messi. I almost jumped off the couch, I wanted to hug someone. Since then, it has become clear to me that in the kingdom of football, as in any kingdom, there is no eternal monarch. Various kings receive and pass on the crown. But of course, there are kings who fall better than others, who win the hearts of their subjects. And that king, for me, is the one who dominated in the wonderful decade of the 1980s, the genius of world soccer, the cosmic kite, the great Diego Armando Maradona.
Marlon Aquino Ramirez
. Peruvian writer, editor and literary critic. PhD in Latin American Literature from Northwestern University (Chicago, USA). Omnivorous reader, serial fan from birth and patient explorer of quality television programs.www.meer.com.es
Dilemmas of a Maradonian. Who is the best soccer player in history? – 23.1.23 / Online blog