Just Kiddin'...

Image: Source

Yeah, we are kidding, but still, the man deserves some credit for the title of this post. Anyway, we’re beginning a project about the greatest athletes ever and today in the wide world of sports, starting with the most popular sport in the world that even makes Americans care about it once every four years, if their national team somehow musters something resembling a successful campaign. So here we go –

The Best There Is –

When he's in a Barca shirt, not even rain can stop Leo Messi

Image: Source

If there was any debate on the matter before last season or the last two, there’s no question who is the best, right now – Lionel Messi. At the age of 23, with every possible club title in his trophy cabinet, Messi is compared in historical measures, not to his generation of players, except for maybe Ronaldo, on his good days. I am one of those who feels Cristiano Ronaldo, taking away his personality and his, intended or not, dominating nature on the pitch, forcing the whole team to work for him, is the better player, when talking pure soccer skills.

Image: Source

But we’re not machines, and Messi plays perfectly as part of a team, something Ronaldo, despite his amazing abilities and scoring record (127 goals in his last 190 matches for United and Real), still hasn’t grasped. Messi’s last two seasons – 85 goals in 104 matches (and he’s not a striker!) have been pure magic for long stretches, with the little Argentinian phenom producing some unforgettable displays for La Liga and Champions League fans. Too bad Argentina fans still can’t get too see the best of him wearing the Albiceleste uniform.

The Best There Was –

Image: Source

An age old question, and probably the hardest, maybe impossible, to answer. I don’t believe in the greatest of all-time. The best player in the 60’s, Pele, probably wouldn’t have been that great 30 years later. But he did stand out during his era, breaking out in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, leading Brazil to their first World Cup triumph. In the 1950’s it was either Hungarian Ferenc Puskas, part of the Mighty Magyars that were the best national team in the world but missed out on the World Cup trophy in 1954, losing to West Germany in the final, or his Real Madrid teammate, Alfredo Di Stefano, who played for three different national team, but never played in the World Cup.

Back when Dinosaurs, I mean Real Madrid, Rule the Earth

Image: Source

Pele came shortly afterwards. Edison Arantes do Nascimento was 17 when he scored for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup Final and during his 19 year career with Santos scored 1087 goals, or so they say. He scored another 77 for the Brazilian national team, winning three World Cups. Pele was the best because he was probably the first to combine perfect technique and amazing natural fitness and athleticism at such a high level for such a long period of time. His goalscoring ability was superior to anyone else in the world at that time, and his goalscoring record still is. It’s been 40 years since that 1970 World Cup Final against Italy, and what was once a pretty well accepted fact, Pele being the best ever, has changed and slowly not withstanding the test of time. Maradona bashing him at every opportunity also helps.

Image: Source

The 70’s? That was Cruyff. Another player who didn’t win the World Cup, and maybe that always denied him the recognition of the greatest ever, but Cruyff was one of the most intelligent players to grace the soccer pitches in Europe, becoming a living legend at Ajax and Barcelona. In 1999, he was voted as the European player of the Century and came in second after Pele in the World Player of the Century poll. To this day, when people talk about total football and a total footballer, Cruyff is who they usually think of.

Image: Source

Then came the 80’s, and the Cocaine, and Maradona. Or did Maradona come first, and then the cocaine? Doesn’t matter. Probably the most intriguing and controversial figure in the history of soccer showed the world how a 5’5 (1.65 meters) player can rule the world. He led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup glory on his back and made Napoli an Italian and European force, winning two Serie A titles and one UEFA Cup with the South Italy club who knew glory only during Maradona’s days. A perfect dribbler and a master set piece taker, Maradona’s downfall was as painful and humiliating as can get, but he seemed to have survive everything. Somehow, he even got to be the national team’s manager, although that too, ended very painfully.

The 1990’s? No one dominated for a long period of time during the 90’s. It was probably Roberto Baggio in the beginning, taking on AC Milan’s Dutch trio on his own with Juventus, and almost carrying Italy single handily to the 1994 World Cup title. That is, until they met Brazil and penalty kicks in the final. When Ronaldo exploded onto the scene in 1996 with Barcelona, he seemed like the next big thing. And he was, until the injuries piled up on his fragile knees, and despite his fantastic career, He didn’t fully live up to his potential, which would have made him the greatest ever. After Ronaldo? It was Zidane, who was brilliant and elegant by doing things simply and effectively. It made France World Champions in 1998, Juventus the best club in Europe during the late 90’s and was the Gem of Real Madrid’s first Galacticos project.

Image: Source

The Best There Ever Will Be –

Messi has a chance of being remembered as the greatest ever. But he needs to win a World Cup. And not just win it. He needs to be the centerpiece in an Argentinian World Cup glory campaign, winning it for the first time since 1986. And if he can beat England and Brazil en route, the more the merrier. I wasn’t alive during Pele’s and Cruyff’s heyday, and was too young when Maradona brought entire defensive lines to their knees. Brazilian Ronaldo is the most gifted soccer player I have ever seen, but the injuries slowed him down too much. He only has one league title (Real Madrid, 2003) and no Champions League trophy, which hurts his bid. Zidane was probably the best I’ve seen during his prime, but both Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are more talented. Messi seems like the prime candidate now to be the one remembered as the greatest, but he needs a few more trophies and dazzling seasons like the last two if he is to become soccer’s greatest legend.