Sir Alex Ferguson never had the privilege of working alongside Lionel Messi and has always been more of a Cristiano Ronaldo man.
In an interview with BBC Sport in 2015, Ferguson said that while he would never argue against people who believe Messi is the world’s best player, he felt Ronaldo was a more complete footballer who could shine for any club in any league on the planet.
“I think Messi’s a Barcelona player,” Ferguson concluded.
However, Fergie was acutely aware of what Messi was capable of, having tried – and failed – to stop the legendary Argentine forward during the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.
Seven months after the 2011 Champions League final at Wembley, where Messi was named Man of the Match as Barça registered a 3-1 victory over Fergie’s United, Ferguson found himself sat on the same stage as Pep Guardiola, Xavi and Messi while attending the 2011 Ballon d’Or ceremony.
The quartet took questions from the media and Ferguson was asked if he believed Messi, who was only 24 years old at the time, belonged in the same category as the game’s greatest ever players.
A reporter said: “Mr Ferguson: You’ve seen some of the best players in history like [Diego] Maradona, [Johan] Cruyff, [Alfredo] Di Stefano – do you think Leo Messi is now at that standard? Do you think he’s part of that select group of the best players in history?”
Ferguson was emphatic with his answer.
“Yes, I would agree with that completely,” the Scot replied.
“Critics have always questioned whether players like Pele from the 50s could play today.
“The answer to that is great players would play in any generation.
“Lionel Messi could play in the 1950s and the present day, as could Di Stefano, Pele, Maradona, Cruyff because they are all great players.
“Lionel Messi without question comes into that category.”
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While praise has never gone to Messi’s head, the South American must have appreciated Ferguson’s comments.
Not only is Fergie arguably the greatest manager of all time but, as the reporter mentioned, he actually saw the likes of Di Stefano, Cruyff and Maradona play and was subsequently in a fantastic position to answer the question.
And Ferguson’s response that great players could play in any era couldn’t have been more perfect.