So Wednesday night saw Barcelona forward Lionel Messi become the first player ever to score five goals in a Champions League tie, raising the question once again: Is he the best we have ever seen?
“When Messi has scored 1,283 goals like me, when he’s won three World Cups, we’ll talk about it,” were the words of the great Pele – considered by some as the greatest ever to play the game. But is that fair?
The 24-year-old has been on a one man mission to rewrite the history books since bursting onto the scene back in 2005. What the man has achieved in this relatively short period of time is quite frankly astonishing.
To date, Messi has won three Ballon d’Or awards, three Champions League winners medals, five La Liga titles, two World Club Cup’s, as well as becoming the record holder for most goals scored by a Barcelona player in one season, finding the net an incredible 53 times last season.
But it’s not just the accolades that make Messi so special – it’s his mesmerising performances on the pitch that really capture the imagination. Messi is winning, but winning beautifully.
Take his Champions League record, for example. His five goal haul midweek against Bayer Leverkusen (which included two outrageous lobs) took Messi to fourth in the standings of Champions League goalscorers – Raul, Van Nistelrooy and Henry are the only men in his way.
Compare Messi’s 49 goals to the 56 that Van Nistelrooy scored in the competition and I think it would be fair to say there would be no contest as to who would win the prize for the prettiest goals.
However, the cloud that continues to loom over the boy from Rosario’s head is that of International failure. Despite being capped 67 times and now captaining Argentina, his only success with the national team came at the 2008 Olympics – a Mickey Mouse tournament in terms of international football.
For me, Messi would be number two in my list of all time players, only behind the artistry of Zinedine Zidane.
Of course Zidane never racked up scoring records quite like Messi has in his career thus far, but the Frenchman had everything – vision, elegance, finishing, heading, skills – the lot. Not to mention a World Cup winners medal with three final goals to boot.
Ronaldo completes my top three, although I think without the serious injuries he suffered at a crucial part of his career, we wouldn’t have to now refer to him as “the fat Ronaldo”.
Of course there are other candidates, including the aforementioned Pele, who’s ability could never be doubted. Although, around half of Pele’s goals came in exhibition matches touring with Santos, making it more or less a false stat.
Personally, I think that Messi will go on to succeed Zidane as the greatest player ever – but only if he does it at international level. He has no excuse with the team-mates he has around him. What better a stage than the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? We’ll see you there, Leo!
What I want to know is who YOU think is the best player to have played the beautiful game and why? Has Messi done enough at this stage of his career to justify his claim? Do you have to win the World Cup to be considered great? Be sure to let me know what you think.
(Check out the BBC’s article on Messi, also. Some good quotes and more stats that I haven’t included: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/17297792)