Who's the greatest? Messi or Maradona

By Rupert Fryer

Picking up the ball some 30 yards from goal, ducking inside one, outside a second, and skipping past a third before evading a final defender to dispatch it wide of the on-rushing keeper and into the far corner, it was a goal that would be replayed over and over again.

News stations across Argentina ran it in split screen, with Diego Maradona’s wonderful solo effort from 1986 taking up the other half of the picture. The nation’s finest player was once again being compared to him: 'El Diego'. Except this time the ball was considerably smaller, and the person in question was carrying a stick.

Luciana Aymar had cemented her status as the world’s finest hockey player with a stunning goal against China – one almost identical to Maradona’s second against Belgium in Mexico ’86. Aymar would go on to inspire her side to the 2010 Women's Hockey World Cup, and was named player of the tournament.

Who’s better, they asked, Aymar or Maradona? It served as a reminder that every one of the nation’s top players, regardless of the sport, lived in a post-Diego Argentina.

The previous occasion on which we were shown a Maradona goal from ’86 replayed in split-screen was his second against England and the other half of the picture showed Lionel Messi’s astonishing and eerily similar goal against Getafe in 2007. Messi has earned the comparisons ever since wandering onto the Camp Nou field as a squat, scruffy teenager around a decade ago.


 678 games / 344 goals TOTAL GAMES/GOALS
435 games / 335 goals
 90 games / 33 goals INTERNATIONAL GAMES/GOALS
76 games /31 goals
 21 games / 12 goals WORLD CUP GAMES/GOALS  8 games / 1 goal
76 games / 58 goals
 1 World Cup
1 Argentine league
2 Italian leagues
1 Copa del Rey
1 Coppa Italia
1 Uefa Cup
 5 Spanish leagues
2 Copa del Reys
3 Champions Leagues
2 Uefa Super Cups
2 Club World Cups

As he has continued his development into the finest player on the planet, the comparisons have gone into overdrive. And everyone’s had their say.

In 2011, Maradona’s former team-mate Ossie Ardiles said Messi would one day surpass 'El Diego'. A year later Ardiles said Messi was now the “best ever”. Legendary coach Carlos Bianchi agreed, as did former Uruguay international Enzo Francescoli, and a whole host of others.

Then there were those in the Maradona camp, including Messi’s former coach Pep Guardiola, who said: “Maradona is the best I’ve ever seen.” Meanwhile, one of the oracles of football journalism, Brian Glanville, said last year that Messi still sits behind Maradona, Pele and Alfredo Di Stefano.

There is no absolute barometer for measuring talent. And with football a game of infinite variables, even the data isn’t conclusive. Messi has crushed just about every goalscoring record anyone’s even bothered to keep track of.

His current goals-to-game ratio far exceeds Maradona’s, while comparing the final list of medals at club level, it is certainly fair to argue Messi's achievements far outweigh those of 'El Diego', with five league championships and three Champions League titles to his name.

Lionel Messi will go down in history as the No. 1 player of all time, the best that there ever was.

- Ossie Ardiles

Meanwhile, Maradona earned just three league titles over the course of his career, one with Boca Juniors, and then two with Napoli, along with one Coppa Italia and a Uefa Cup victory.

Both played for Barcelona but then they were two very different Barcelonas. “Without Messi, [Barcelona] are still the best but with him they are from another galaxy,” said Germany sporting director Robin Dutt. The same cannot be said for the Barcelona side during Maradona’s short stay in Catalunya.

The ultimate test of any player is probably to what degree he improves those around them. Both Messi and Maradona undoubtedly did that, but in very different ways. “Maradona always took charge of the team,” Cesar Luis Menotti (who overlooked Maradona, then 17, for his Argentina squad that lifted the World Cup in 1978) told Telam last year. “Diego naturally took responsibility. Instead Messi plays a part, important though it is, in the operation of an orchestra as excellently tuned as Barcelona.”

What truly cemented Maradona’s place in the pantheon of the game’s all-time greats were his performances in the World Cups of 1986 and 1990. Specifically '86. Maradona had point to prove after having been left out of the squad in '78 and then being sent off against Brazil as Argentina crashed out in the group stage in '82. He arrived in Mexico four years later at the peak of his powers, and bagged five goals, including that effort against England, and was named player of the tournament as he inspired Argentina to the title. "Diego Maradona had been as great a hero as Pele in 1970," wrote Glanville.

The year 2010 was supposed to be Messi's ''86', but it didn't quite work out. Unable to drag - ironically - Maradona's desperately flawed team past a rampant Germany was held up as proof that the Barca man had yet to reach Diego’s level. But the game has changed. International football is no longer the benchmark it once was.

Diego naturally took responsibility. Instead Messi plays a part, important though it is, in the operation of an orchestra as excellently tuned as Barcelona.
- Cesar Luis Menotti

The Champions League is arguably the main competition where the world’s best congregate to test themselves against one another – a tournament in which Messi has the been the top scorer for the last four years running: an unprecedented record.

With the 25-year-old in a position to go on performing at this rate for another five to seven years, future generations are likely to rate him higher than Maradona. But should it matter? Both have captured our imaginations.

“I was nine when we won the World Cup in 1986 and I still remember exactly where I was for each of those seven matches,” says Goal.com Argentina managing editor Sebastian Garcia.

“I remember who I hugged and with whom I cried. I remember how I felt before each match and I remember how special it was to go out on the streets to celebrate that there was no other nation better than us at football, and that nobody was fit to tie Diego's shoe laces … And now, every time I see Messi play, I feel like I'm nine again.”

Perhaps this is what really matters.

Follow Rupert Fryer on 


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Nonviolent disciplining of kids pushed

    Child rights advocates called on senators to pass and strongly endorse a law that will institutionalize positive and nonviolent methods of disciplining children.The Child Rights Network (CRN), Plan International Philippines (PIP), Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLPCD), and Lihok Pilipinas Foundation led the call for the enactment of the Positive Discipline Bill.Several Quezon City Council members led by Majority Floor Leader Jesus Manuel Suntay, Victor Ferrer …

  • Method to their madness

    [caption id="attachment_256768" align="alignright" width="212"] Illustration by Rod Cañalita[/caption] EMMANUEL PORTUGAL Country Manager for the Philippines, VMware I look after the garden. I’d like to think that I have a green thumb—no plants have died so far! The ones I like now that I planted a few months ago is the Blue Iris. Like the town in the movie, my Blue Iris shows up in the morning and only appears for one day. …

  • JGFP Summer Tour on today

    The summer tour for local junior golfers kicks off with the holding of the ICTSI-JGFP Baguio Junior Open today and tomorrow at the treacherous Baguio Country Club course in Baguio.Sixty players aged 6 to 17 years old are entered in the 36-hole tourney serving as the opening leg of the summer circuit organized by the Junior Golf Foundation of the Philippines with the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. Foundation as main sponsor. ... …

  • PH now market ready to absorb infra bonds

    The Philippine market is now ready to absorb infrastructure bonds that will be issued by private companies amid a growing pipeline of infra-related projects under the government’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program. President Benigno Aquino III last week said the government is still committed to spend more on the country’s infrastructure, with 16 PPP projects currently on the pipeline and nine that have already been awarded. Over the years, some of the country’s biggest infrastructure …

  • Filipinos are saving more – BSP survey

    More Filipinos have the extra cash to save for that proverbial rainy day, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Philippines (BSP). Based on a quarterly survey on consumer confidence, domestic households with savings have the means to increase family reserves and to bring up the amount to historical highs. The central bank said improved family income, a generally positive outlook on the economy, inflation and foreign exchange rates encouraged saving behavior during the first three months of 2015. …

  • AXA Philippines growing alongside its parent firm

    Philippine AXA Life Insurance Corp. is growing side by side with its parent firm, global insurance firm AXA, after posting significant growth in its total premium income amid an increasing market share in the country. A statement showed that in the Philippines, multi-billion firm AXA Group saw P18.35 billion in total premium income. The local entity of AXA, AXA Philippines is a joint venture between AXA Group and the Metrobank Group. In 2014, it saw an increase in market share to 11.6 …

  • End to traffic jam in sight? Japan to lend P4B to PHL for road projects

    The Japanese government will be providing some P4 billion to the Philippines for road projects aimed at decongesting monstrous jams in Metro Manila.Noriaki Niwa, chief representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said the loan will cover major interchanges to address traffic congestion in Metro Manila, including flyovers, and road links.Among them are the interchanges on EDSA-Roosevelt/Congressional, EDSA-West/North, and C-5-Green Meadows and North/Mindanao Avenue. ... …

  • US won’t provide flexibility for countries interested in TPP

    Washington D.C.—The US government will not provide any flexibility for potential member countries, like the Philippines, in their bid to become part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a senior official said. Economic and Business Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary William E. Craft, Jr., said all restrictions stated under the TPP trade deal will be maintained and have to be met by the current and future member countries. Earlier, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said that the …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options