For Cristiano's sake, who is football's GOAT?
Even when Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't give it a nudge, it’s a debate that just never goes away. When the Real Madrid/Manchester United legend anointed himself, he meant it in the context of self-belief, but I overheard some boys arguing about it at the pub during the weekend. Naturally, I thought to myself, “Who really is football’s Greatest Of All Time?”
Scientifically speaking, it would be one heck of a task to capture the data for every footballer who has played the game professionally since football became a thing. The number would run into hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Thankfully only a few hundred have left indelible marks on the game.
That number can be stripped to a handful who were especially spectacular in their day. From that lot, only four footballers typically are given respect when it comes to the greatest of all time. Unfortunately, that leaves out some truly excellent players, such as Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer. Unlike the four nominees, however, the Dutch master and der Kaiser don't transcend the game.
Even people who don't love football are surprisingly familiar with Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi. It tells you just how popular the quartet have become as a result of their massive impact on the most popular sport in the world.
As an Round and White reader, you probably have your own strong opinion on each of these four great footballers. Just like you, I believe one of them is football’s greatest of all time. The question is, do we agree? Or is the pub about to get noisy again?
Edson Arantes do Nascimento
Phew! That’s a really long name. Perhaps that’s why the world refers to him as Pele. Brazilian football's living legend, many regard Pele as the best player to ever play the game. What Pele achieved in football is the stuff of dreams for many footballers.
At 16, he was already a first-team regular with the Brazil national team. At 17, he was scoring in the Final to become a World Cup winner. Is there another 17-year-old who can score a hat-trick at a World Cup today? Or even be given the opportunity? Pele went on to win three FIFA World Cups and a host of other trophies, most notably with his beloved Santos. He then sparked the United States passion for the beautiful game when he signed with the New York Cosmos in 1975.
No footballer has scored more hattricks than Pele (92). The 77-year-old holds the Guinness record for most goals ever scored by a footballer; the number is beyond 1200.
No one can match those numbers. Yet, the fact that many modern-day football lovers did not watch Pele play, and that new football rules, techniques, equipment, tactics, and perhaps most importantly, money have greatly changed the game, gives ample room to the debate over just who football's GOAT really is.
He didn’t win as many international or individual trophies as Pele, but Diego Maradona is still widely regarded as the best of the best in football. Also a World Cup winner, Maradona was a player who could do all sorts of incredible things every time he played a football match. As any Englishman still smarting from the Hand of God will tell you, El Pibe would also do anything it took to win.
The Argentine Football Association once tried to have the number 10 jersey retired in his honour. FIFA said no. Still, you won’t find a Napoli player wearing the number 10 shirt. It’s been retired in Maradona’s honour.
He shares the FIFA Greatest Player of the 20th century award with Pele, though he did beat Pele in the online poll conducted by FIFA in 2000. Maradona’s individual accolades compromise a long list that cannot easily be summarized.
But for his poor attitude and behaviour both on and off the pitch, Maradona may well have risen above Pele in the world's eye.
Quite the opposite of his Argentine counterpart in behaviour, Messi epitomises the player who does all his talking with the ball at his feet. Over and over, Messi has shown the world that he’s above and beyond modern day footballers.
He doesn’t need to be in top form to do the unimaginable. On a bad day, Messi can score two goals. On a good day, with a World Cup berth at stake at altitude, he can single-handedly dismantle an opponent with a hattrick. Ask Antonio Valencia and Ecuador. With Barcelona, Messi has won everything a footballer can ever aspire to win at club level.
A cabinet can't hold Messi's individual honours go. He has a museum. Five times he’s won the Ballon d’Or. Four consecutively. No player in La Liga history has ever scored or assisted on more goals than Leo Messi. His club CV eclipses Maradona's.
The only blemish on Messi's enviable career has been his inability to deliver a major trophy to Argentina. A FIFA U20 World Cup and Olympic gold medal are all he has given his country. The senior side hasn't won a World Cup or Copa America on his watch. Do you still think he’s the greatest of all time?
The reigning Ballon d'Or winner has scored in every minute of the 90 over his career. CR7 has more than 500 goals for club and country. He has won the Ballon d'Or five times. He’s also won the Euros, the Champions League, the Club World Cup and every domestic club competition in England and Spain. For this, and numerous other astounding achievements, Cristiano Ronaldo thinks his self-belief has become reality.
The Portuguese striker told France football:
“I’m the best player in history, in the good moments and the bad ones”
“I respect everyone’s preferences, but I’ve never seen anyone better than me. I have always thought that. No footballer can do the things I can. There’s no player more complete than me. I play well with both feet, I’m quick, powerful, good with the head, I score goals, I make assists. There are guys who prefer Neymar or Messi. But I tell you: there’s no-one more complete than me.”
“No-one has won as many individual trophies as me. And I’m not speaking just of the Ballon d’Or. That says something, doesn’t it? It’s not just a result of the work I do in the gym, like some people think. It’s the sum of many things. Legends like Floyd Mayweather and LeBron James don’t get to their perfect level by chance. Many factors coincide. To be at the top and to stay there, you have to have more talent than the others.”
Do you agree with Ronaldo?
Both Ronaldo and Messi have shown astonishing individual brilliance to get to where they are. Sadly, neither has won the World Cup. Maradona did exceptionally well in his day but he's a man who failed a dope test at the World Cup and was sent home. In all his glory, El Pibe could only win one World Cup. That leaves us with Pele, the shining star of Brazil. Three World Cups with Brazil, still Brazil record scorer after decades of retirement. I say he’s the greatest footballer of all time.
What say you?