When all is said and done, Lionel Messi might top most people’s lists when it comes to naming football’s best ever players.
The Argentine maestro’s five Ballon d’Or titles are a reflection of his impeccable performances; a clear sign of Messi’s status as the best player in the 21st century.
The 29-year-old is the top goalscorer in Barcelona and Argentina’s histories. He’s won eight La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies to go along with the individual accolades.
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Even his trophy drought with the Albiceleste doesn’t sound too bad when you consider Messi has led his national team to four finals.
But for all of Messi’s accomplishments, there will always be some who value someone else a little better. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, or Diego Maradona.
And Brazil and Santos idol Pepe has offered another suggestion to who could possibly be considered better than Messi: Pele.
The Brazil legend is regarded as one of the best to ever do it, winning the World Cup in 1958 and 1962 and starring in a Santos side that dominated South American football in the 1960s.
Pepe's physical advantage
Pepe, who played with Pele for club and country, doesn’t think anybody tops the Brazil hero - even Barcelona’s little magician.
“Messi is an exceptional player. It's a joy turning on the television to see this lad playing, but I still believe Pele is at the very top,” Pepe told Goal.
“He had an advantage over Messi because of his physique; he scored from a lot of headers and on plays that demanded much more strength.
“As great as Messi's individual qualities are, he couldn’t do things Pele could. At Santos, sometimes when we had a hard time scoring we just began crossing balls into the box, and Pele just soared above everybody else to score with a powerful header.
“You can't do that with Messi, but he is a brilliant player. I think he has surpassed the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and others... but not Pele!”
Messi surprised the football world by announcing his retirement from international football following Argentina’s penalty-shootout defeat to Chile in Sunday’s Copa America Centenario final.
Many, perhaps out of desperation, think that Messi’s admission that “this is the end” was made simply in the heat of an emotional defeat, and that a formal announcement is coming soon.
If Messi’s retirement is permanent, his legacy will be even further split by those ready to crown him as the greatest ever and those who think his lack of international success is a significant knock.
But until the Barcelona forward hangs up his boots, we should enjoy his artistry while it lasts.