There’s no doubt that both Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona are in the top tier when it comes to the pantheon of all-time great footballers.
There are some football fans who consider Messi as the greatest player to ever live, while others believe Maradona deserves that title.
There are also many who believe that Pele is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), and the same applies to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Pre-Messi, a host of talented Argentine youngsters were hailed as the ‘next Maradona’ and failed to live up to the hype.
Messi, though, not only lived up to the hype, he arguably did the seemingly impossible by surpassing Maradona.
Earlier this week, legendary sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney sadly passed away and he was firmly on the belief that Maradona was better than Messi.
The Times’ Jonathan Northcroft tells a story of McIlvanney and Graeme Souness having a heated debate over the two Argentina legends.
Northcroft writes: “Something similar happened at a Sunday Times lunch, when with rising intensity Hugh and Graeme Souness debated whether Lionel Messi (Souness’s call) is greater than Diego Maradona (Hugh’s).
“An exasperated Souness had to finally beseech: ‘Look, I played against Maradona five times and I’m telling you — Messi.’ Hugh growled back: ‘I don’t care who you played against. It’s Diego.’”
Sir Alex Ferguson - who knew McIlvanney well - has now been told this story and the former Manchester United manager has subsequently had his say on the eternal Messi v Maradona debate.
Ferguson, widely regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time, believes that Messi should be considered as a greater player than Maradona because the Barcelona forward has spent longer at the top of the sport.
Northcroft adds: “Told of this, ‘I would side with Souness on that one,’ says Ferguson.
‘Maradona’s career at the very top was only a few years.
'But I can imagine Hugh’s response. ‘You don’t ******* know what you’re talking about!’ While blowing a big puff of smoke in your face, lighting another stogie and speaking with that wonderful, rasping voice.’”
So, there we have it: Fergie reckons Messi has surpassed Maradona thanks to his longevity.
It’s hard to argue with that point of view, although Maradona fans can still point to El Diego’s World Cup medal as a reason why their hero is still the best - an accolade Messi has so far failed to win during his illustrious career.
He came close in 2014, helping Argentina reach the World Cup final against Germany in Brazil, but was unable to drag his national team over the finish line.
Now 31 years old, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is likely to be Messi’s final opportunity to land his hands on the World Cup trophy.