Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pele Provides a Lionel Messi Reality Check

We mentioned here recently that Lionel Messi won't consider himself a legend until he leads his national team to a World Cup championship.

It appears as if Brazilian superstar Pele, almost universally considered the greatest player in soccer history, might not be willing to grant Messi icon status even then.

Pele is annoyed at comparisons being made between himself and Messi. And he couldn't have been amused when Argentina coach Diego Maradona a week ago suggested that Messi is "playing a kick-about with Jesus." I'm not exactly sure what he meant by that (no doubt a literal translation of the Spanish), but I assume it means Diego believes Messi is playing at a god-like level.

So, what does Pele have to say?

For starters, that he has been through this many times before: this "as good as Pele" thing.

Said The Man: "They are always trying to compare someone to Pele. I always joke with my Argentine friends that they must first choose who is the best player from Argentina.

"Then, when one of them scores a thousand goals, then we can start talking."

Ooh. Snap!

Pele is credited with scoring 1,280 goals. Messi has, what, 1,000 to go before he catches him?

There also is the Best Argentine thing to figure out. Most don't seem willing yet to take that title from Maradona and give it to the 22-year-old Barcelona forward.

Pele is right. (And perhaps indulging in a little Brazil-vs.-Argentina snark.) When the Argentines have settled on their best guy, then make comparisons to Pele.

But, as the story makes clear, Pele is a fan of young Mr. Messi. For what he has done so far. He says he predicted he would be the Fifa player of the year back in 2007.

By 2009, he was.

Said Pele: "Messi did not win (in 2007; Kaka did), but I remember that I said to him, 'you'll be the next.' It took a little longer, but he eventually won. He's a great player.

"He plays very well for Barcelona but has failed to show his talent with the Argentina team. Maybe he can at the World Cup. Let's wait and see."

Ah, yes, the other sore point: Messi to date has been thoroughly unremarkable with his national team.

Pele led Brazil to World Cup championships in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Yes. Three of them.

The man set the bar really, really high. Let's see if Lionel Messi can approach it.

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