“Behold the king, The King of Kings…there is only one.”
Before the dust had even settled on arguably the greatest World Cup final of all time, the GOAT debate was everywhere once again. For years there has been a sort of tug of war between the Ronaldo rabble and the Messi mob. People endlessly compare the two in all factors available – goals, trophies, awards…
Cristiano Ronaldo holds the record for most Champions League appearances, the (joint) most appearances for his country, most goals for his country, he has won league titles and domestic cups in arguably the three highest profile nations in the world (England, Spain, Italy), he has won the Champions League with Manchester United and Real Madrid, he has won the Ballon D’Or five times, the European Championships with Portugal, the only player to score in five World Cups.
Lionel Messi holds the record for the most La Liga goals, he has won 10 La Liga titles and one Ligue 1 title, he is second or third only to Ronaldo in the pursuit of several records, he has won the most Ballon D’Or awards at seven, the Copa America with Argentina and as we know, the holy grail, the World Cup.
It was this lifting of the solid gold trophy which threatened to put the debate to bed. But if this even a genuine argument? Messi or Ronaldo? Are either of them, in fact, worthy of the auspicious label of the “Greatest Of All Time”?
Perhaps it is a generational thing, it probably always will be. My mother will tell you the greatest footballer ever could be Sir Tom Finney…Sir Stanley Matthews fans would have something to say about that for sure. Let us not also forget or fail to acknowledge that the sport we all love has evolved so much since its inception. Finney & Matthews were playing a very different brand to Ronaldo & Messi. The latter pair have probably never heard of the former…philistines!
In any event, the back and forth of this debate will continue long after you or I have ceased to be; forever destined to be trapped in a perpetual motion conversation. GOATs and BOATs (Best Of All Time) and Mount Rushmores…
I watched the World Cup final in Glasgow with friends…quite relieved that England didn’t make it as that would have been quite awkward! Among these friends was a guy who was so deep in the Ronaldo camp that he was visibly distraught that Argentina had come out victorious and was incensed that anyone would dare to declare the GOAT debate over with Messi as the winner. His father, while also a Ronaldo fan, took great delight in teasing him along the way as you would expect but also pointed out that his personal choice for Greatest Of All Time was Diego Maradona…this may or may not have had something to do with the Hand of God incident against England in 1986! As I watched this entertaining event unfold, I realised that even in my own head, the debate was not Messi vs Ronaldo but Maradona vs Pelé. These were the two players who I would advocate for gods of the game. One is Argentinian and the other is a Portuguese speaker but more than that, those two men changed the game of football from a sport to sports entertainment. They made a show of it. Finney and Matthews were footballers, that was their job and they did it very, very well. Messi and Ronaldo are brands and showmen as well footballers and they too perform their roles in unrivalled (except from each other) perfection. But who bridged that gap? Who transformed football from skilful players doing their job in black and white in Preston and Blackpool to the global superstars who bring so much vibrancy to this worldwide phenomenon? To me and a few generations of football fans, those men were Diego Maradona and Pelé. It has been said by many icons of the game that before these two, the number 10 was simply a number but after them it became a position; a badge of honour to aspire to wear for a club or country.
As the tributes pour in following the death of Pelé, much as they did when Maradona left us in 2020, and the word “legend” has stopped being thrown around willy-nilly to be rightfully placed at the tombstone of Brazil’s biggest football icon, this is the time to pause, if not stop altogether, batting the GOAT debate over the net like an endless game of tennis. Quieten the racket and let us simply remember the man who is to many and forever will be the undisputed King of Kings, the only man now and perhaps ever to hold three FIFA World Cups and so many records and “first-evers”.
That man was Edson Arantes do Nascimento…PELÉ!!
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