You don’t need a Spanish football blog to tell you that Lionel Messi has had an unforgettable year. With 91 goals and a third successive Balon Dor prize in the bag, it’s a shame his club side Barcelona put a slight dampener on his incredible achievement by losing out on retaining both the La Liga title to fierce rivals Real Madrid and the Champions League to unlikely winners Chelsea.
It’s arguable that should Barca have held onto their domestic and European silverware as expected, Messi would have been Christened by some sections of the sporting media as the greatest ever player to walk the earth. This claim however, would have been in spite of the often-re-occurring argument made by some football pundits that he cannot be thought of so highly until he is able to replicate his unstoppable form on the world stage and bring home World Cup glory for his country Argentina.
So, whilst a slightly controversial question, we want to know has little Leo already peaked in his career? No one has a crystal ball and no one can tell us how much greatness the Argentine is still destined for but using the highly-acclaimed careers of two other footballing greats, Diego Maradona and Pele, we can see at what points they produced their greatest jaw-dropping moments in world football and from this see how long the Barca striker has left at the top.
From a purely statistical point of view, the Argentine’s career hit a peak in the 1987/1988 season where he managed 21 goals in for 39 games for his Serie A club side Napoli.
This would have made the great Diego 28 years of age but being fair to the Argentine, for an attacking midfielder perhaps using goals isn’t the best metric to use in deciphering when or where the now father-in-law of Man City striker Sergio Aguero was at his best. Using the unforgettable ‘Hand of God’ game in 1986 (which needs no reintroduction) would be a more natural time to pin down in his career and we can see that Maradona still would have only been 26 years young after scoring one of the most famous goals in history against a shell-shocked England side. So with 26-28 being the stand out years, the best is yet to come for Lionel Messi judging by Maradona’s impressive statistics. Now what about Pele?
The ex-Brazilian striker, now aged 72 was given the highest accolade in 1999 by being named the ‘Player of the century’ by the IFFHS. It’s no wonder that his career goal-scoring tally of 1088 and mouth-watering goals to game ratio (0.98 goals a game if you’re asking) has made him arguably the world’s greatest ever athlete, let-alone footballer.
But where and when did the decorated career of ‘O Rei do Futebol’ (King of football) experience the most success? 1958 was the golden year as far as goals were concerned for the Brazilian striker; 58 goals in 38 appearances for his club side Santos and in the same year he won the World Cup for his country in Sweden and took home with it the competition’s player of the tournament award and silver boot prize. Quite amazingly Pele was just 17 years of age at the time but repeated this astounding feat twice more in 1962 and 1970 and in 1970 in particular he was the stand-out performer this time taking home the competition’s Golden boot prize after a phenomenal tournament in a Brazil side that is still considered to be the best that has ever lived.
Whilst a fresh-faced Pele forced the world to stand up and take notice at the paltry age of 17, the Samba star dominated the world scene for over 12 more years to come and his illustrious career could never really be pinned down to one epic moment of divine magic like it could with Maradona’s.
2012 may have been Lionel Messi’s finest moment to date but there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that the pint-sized Argentine could further improve on his achievements – a terrifying thought in itself! As irritating as it may be, there’s no escaping the fact that a World Cup medal would go along way to convincing the footballing sceptics (including Pele himself) that Messi is deserving of going down in history as one of the world’s greats. Only time will tell and with Brazil 2014 only 18 months away, another chance for Messi to catapult himself into the record books beckons.