Football

Who is the greatest of all time?

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Does one stand above the rest? (©GettyImages)
Does one stand above the rest? (©GettyImages).

Lionel Messi’s record-breaking five goals against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday set tongues wagging as the great and good discussed just one question; is the Barcelona maestro the greatest player of all time?

 

Pep Guardiola, Wayne Rooney, Gary Lineker and Cesc Fabregas are amongst those who believe that Messi has surpassed the feats of all those that have gone before him, but are they right? GMF compares the greatest from the past and present to have ever graced the game.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo

 

Strengths

 

Ronaldo’s thunderbolt right foot makes him one of the most potent goalscoring threats in world football, while his direct dribbling style and pace come together to form a lethal combination.

 

His scoring record since switching to Real Madrid is astonishing while his time at Manchester United wasn’t exactly barren.

 

A free-kick specialist and an expert header of the ball, Ronaldo is the epitome of a modern dynamic footballer.

 

Weaknesses

 

Temperament is sometimes called into question as his ability to play as part of a team rather than to his own ends.

 

Best Moments

 

2008 Champions League win, three Premier League titles between 2006 and 2009

 

The Greatest Ever?

 

Has all the ability of his rivals but cannot compete in terms of silverware, and while the likes of Messi, Pele and Maradona were the inspiration behind their teams successes Ronaldo gives the impression of a man working for himself at times.

 

Lionel Messi

 

Strengths

 

Of course, it is Messi’s dribbling skills and finishing that mark him out as something special but there is so much more to his game than that.

 

Movement, the ability to pick a wonderful pass, provide a lift for his illustrious team-mates and the ability to turn out of a tight situation with the ball at his feet while three defenders look on, baffled as to how he got away. The 24-year-old has it all.

 

Weaknesses

 

There aren’t many. His diminutive size may be the source of many of his strengths but it counts against him in an aerial duel, although when he does get a free header he has shown that he can put it away expertly, just ask Manchester United for proof of that.

 

Tracking back isn’t a strength either but his role means he isn’t likely to be asked to by manager Pep Guardiola.

 

Messi failed to score in five matches as Argentina lost in the quarter-final to Germany in the last World Cup.

 

Best moment

 

Hat-trick vs Real Madrid, 2007, four vs Arsenal, 2011, three Champions League winners medals and five La Liga titles

 

The Greatest ever?

 

Naysayers will point to his record with the national team but his goal scoring record and success in all domestic and European competitions, his goals in Champions League finals and his virtuoso performances against Real Madrid make him the greatest of all time.

 

Diego Maradona

 

Strengths

 

Robust as he was inspirational, Diego Maradona is generally revered as the greatest footballer of all time, although “El Diego” appears to have met his match in his countryman.

 

His ball control was outstanding; Gary Lineker – who shared a pitch with him at the 1986 World Cup – tells a story of Maradona juggling the ball and kicking it progressively higher, with the ball dropping down in the same spot with a delicate touch of his boot no matter how high it went.

 

The stories of his five goals and five assists as he carried Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup have entered the game’s history.

 

Weaknesses

 

His gift came with a dark side and controversy dogged his career, culminating in his acrimonious exit from the 1994 World Cup which followed his manic-eyed goal celebration down a camera lens.

 

Excess and indulgence sullied the last part of a glittering career.

 

Best moment

 

1986 World Cup success, two league titles with Napoli in 1987 and 1990, goals against England in ’86.

 

The Greatest ever?

 

Many will hold him so close to their heart because of his ’86 exploits. There is little to choose in terms of raw ability between him and any other contenders for the mantle of ‘best ever’ but it is perhaps his off the field exploits that mean he falls just short of Messi as the complete package.

 

Pele

 

Strengths

 

Pele’s achievements stand on their own. Three World Cups, 1,283 career goals and officially voted as the FIFA Player of the Century (along with Maradona), the Brazilian had it all; a deft touch, dribbling skills and an eye for goal.

 

Part of the 1970 Brazil World Cup side that is so often heralded as the greatest team of all time, Pele’s achievements with his country provide the main ammunition for his very convincing case.

 

Weakness

 

Pele had no real weaknesses, although perhaps he falls slightly behind Messi and Maradona when it comes to technique and vision with the ball at his feet.

 

Best moment

 

1970 World Cup, brace in the 1958 World Cup final, in which at just 17 he became the youngest player to ever appear in the World Cup final

 

The Greatest ever?

 

It is interesting to note that in the fallout of Messi’s five goals Pele’s name was generally dropped from the greatest debate, with Maradona and Messi the lead protagonists.

 

The problem with Pele’s claims come from the fact that much of his club career, spent in Brazil, was hidden away from much of the world, leaving the World Cup as his only exposure to Europe in particular. The fact his main rivals achieved more in the tougher European leagues mean that even though his international record is in a league of its own, Pele may just be edged out.

 

Is there anyone we are missing out? Provide your suggestions below!

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