Who is the best?

2010-05-27 16:30
With the World Cup only a couple of weeks away, conspiracy theorists around the world are already talking about who might or is the best player in the world who can light up the World Cup.

If you are in Barcelona, Spain, more that 88% of the respondents believe that Lionel Messi is not only the current best player in the world but is the best ever player to play the game. Even Madrid, which is traditionally hostile towards Barcelona, 56% of the respondents believed that Messi is the greatest ever player ahead of their own Zinedine Zidane at 38%. That means, Spaniards in general and Catalonians in particular, believe Messi is greater than Pele, Maradona and Zidane.

In France they also attempted the same the thing at the turn of the Century asking if Zidane is the best ever player. At that stage Zizou was the king of football winning every tournament with club and country. Everything he touched was turning to gold: he had single handedly won the World Cup for France in 1998 and in 2000 won the Euro 2000, which led to most European commentators branding him as coming from another planet. Predictable, the French public believed Zizou was the greatest ever.

He was also voted as the best ever player to play in the UEFA league in the last 50 years ahead of Beckenbauer, Platini, Cruyff, etc. When asked if he believed to be the best ever player, Zidane modestly said that there are only two greatest ever players, Pele and Maradona and the rest are attempting to be part of that company.

Pele won three World Cups as a player, 1958, 1962 and 1970. No other player has achieved that feet. He scored more 1 000 goals, an incredible achievement by anyone's standard.

Maradona on the other hand single handedly won the World Cup in 1986 - albeit with the hand of god - and lost the 1990 tournament on penalties. He turned a relatively mediocre Napoli side into twice Italian champions. He is still regarded as a demigod at the San Paolo stadium in Naples.

Messi the best?

Argentine 1978 World Cup winner, Aussie Adiles, said that the claim of Messi being the best ever player is a little premature but not far from reality. This season alone he scored more than 45 goals. Last season he won competition that he played in. He won the Olympics tournament in Beijing in 2008. He is the reigning World Footballer of the year and he is strongly favoured to win again it this season. He's only real competition comes from Wayne Rooney from Manchester United and the usual suspect Christiano Ronaldo.

Rooney had a wonderful season with United, but not good enough to unseat Messi at this stage. As for Ronaldo, he failed to shine for Real Madrid this season in the big games as he did for Manchester United last season. He was completely outclassed by Messi in both El Classico games this season as Real lost both home and away to their bitter rivals. He also failed to rescue Madrid from Champions league humiliation by Lyon. As for the best ever player, even the Portuguese themselves are still debating whether he is fully among Eusebio and Figo as the best ever players coming from that country.

This leaves Messi as the only real contender for the title again this year based on his club performances. The only big threat for him is flopping for his national team in the World Cup.
Messi has failed to replicate his club performance for the Argentina senior national team. The national team battled through the qualifiers with some really poor performances. They lost home and away to Brazil, something made most Argentineans to call for the head of the coach, Diego Maradona. One Spanish newspaper editor even suggested that the only way to stop Messi is to ask Maradona to be his coach. Considering the amount of talent at that country's disposal, it's still a mystery why Argentina battled so hard to qualify for the world cup. If you consider Messi, Diego Milito, Tevez, Aguero and Higuain upfront, Mascherano, Cambiasso, Rodriguez in midfield and Samuel, Zanetti, Gabriel Milito, Zabaletta in defence you find it difficult to understand why this team would battle against Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela. Maradona hasn’t helped the cause by consistently calling up old veterans like Juan Sebastian Veron and Ariel Ortega something that hasn’t been helping the national team.

Messi's big chance

But, remember Brazil in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers. They qualified through the back door and everyone wrote them off as world cup contenders. No need to remind what the real Ronaldo did in Korea/Japan to win his country a record fifth World Cup. Argentina, so heavily favoured after running away with the South American qualifiers during that world cup, failed to even progress from the group stages.

This World Cup tournament is outside Europe which automatically rules out any European country from winning it. Europeans teams are notoriously underperformers in World Cups outside their continent. No European country has ever won the World Cup outside their continent. I don’t see that changing in this tournament. Spain poses the biggest threat from that continent but they still have to banish their quarter final hoodoo. This leaves Brazil, Argentina and some African countries to be contenders for the title. For Messi to be finally regarded as the best ever player, he must win the Holy Grail which is the World Cup for his country. With the exception of Zanetti and Samuel, most the players mentioned above are in their lower and mid 20s. That means if they can win the World Cup this year they have a good base of players for defending the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

So, for Messi to be categorised alongside Pele, Maradona and Zidane he should first pull along his nations promising crop of young players to World Cup glory. He's got a big chance of achieving that in South Africa. Only Brazil stands in his way as most African countries don't have enough depth to challenge for the title even though a semi-final spot is a realistic target on home continent. This World Cup needs him to shine and in most instances a World Cup winning team always has a special player in their ranks who end up being the FIFA World Player of the year. Messi is that special player at the moment. Only Maradona can spoil it by omitting players like Zanneti and Cambiasso from the squad!

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