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A Fan’s Perspective: Could Lionel Messi Be Better Than Pele?

Through every generation of soccer, there is always one player who stands out above the rest — one who is a special talent.

Legends of the sport include Eusebio, Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Ronaldo (Brazil) and Zinedine Zidane. However, no one has come close to the success or skill of Pele, the greatest of all time. Many fans maintain that there will never be another footballer who can match Pele. But might we be seeing the modern version of Pele right now? Enter Lionel Messi.

The Argentine international Messi made his senior debut in October 2004 for his current club, FC Barcelona. At 17 years old, Messi was thrust onto the scene by then-manager Frank Rijkaard. He scored his first goal in May 2005, and since then, the floodgates have opened. Messi has scored 374 career goals at the club level and an additional 44 international goals for Argentina.

Aside from his plethora of goals, Messi has won a record four FIFA Ballon d’Or awards, a 2008 Olympic Gold Medal, three European Golden Boot Awards and the 2014 FIFA World Cup’s Golden Ball Award. Moreover, Messi has won 21 team trophies at the club level. Messi certainly has a star-studded career, but is he good enough to top Pele?

Pele had a 20-season career from 1956 to 1977, and was part of what some fans dub the best team ever assembled in Brazil’s 1970 World Cup squad. Pele debuted for Santos FC at an astounding 16-years-old and netted his first of his 1,281 career goals in his inaugural match. Pele was immediately summoned by the Brazil national team that summer and by 1958 was a mainstay at striker in time for that year’s World Cup. During the tournament, Pele led Brazil to its first World Cup title ever, a milestone he would repeat four years later.

Pele’s goals constitute just one aspect of his allure. Some of his awards include three FIFA World Cups, 40 club titles with Santos and the New York Cosmos, eight Brazilian Serie A titles and one FIFA World Cup Golden Ball. Considering everything Pele had accomplished in his 20 seasons, the question still remains if anyone can top his legacy. And if so, could Messi be the one?

Plain and simple, Messi is good, but at most, he could only just match what Pele achieved. Their only similarities are debuting at age 16 and great club loyalty. Pele played 18 of his 20 seasons with Santos FC, while Messi has played his entire professional career with FC Barcelona.

Pele had both international and club success. Santos FC was a world premier team in the 1960s with Pele. The most successful club campaign for Pele came in 1962 when Santos would go on to win the world’s first treble in soccer history that year, winning Brazil’s league and cup titles along with the South American cup. Along with his club success, Pele won a record three World Cup titles and a Copa America title in 1959.

Messi has found much of his success at the club level. Despite winning numerous trophies with Barcelona, he has yet to put his hands on the most coveted trophy; the World Cup. While Argentina is consistently at the top of the world rankings, they have yet to win a World Cup or Copa America with Messi. At the senior international level, Messi is trophy-less.

Both Pele and Messi have played with amazing supporting casts at the club and international levels. Pele had Coutinho in Santos and Brazil, while Messi has Neymar at Barcelona and Sergio Aguero in Argentina. Despite these supporting casts, Pele remains the greatest of all-time because of his ability to perform consistently at all levels. Although Messi had a stellar 2014 World Cup, it was the first time he performed to his full potential at the international level. From the start of his career, Pele always played at a high level in international and club competitions.

So is Messi the second coming of Pele? Honestly, no. His international career is not nearly as successful as Pele’s career, nor has he accomplished the same. The club careers of both have been filled with trophies and goals a plenty. However, Pele commanded the field in an era when soccer was much more physical and team-oriented.

Pele, with his team, would still be an unselfish talent and play impressively with physicality. Messi, in an era dominated by media influencing the individual aspect of the sport and the less physical nature, has not lived up to potential on the international level. For this reason, Pele will go down as the greatest of all time.

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5 Comments

  1. Your age tells me that you have no seen Pele play. In fact, most who discuss this have not. I have not. All we have seen is highlights, which can make any footballer shine. In short – we do not know.

    However, if I was to speculate. I suspect that Ronaldo and Messi would be leagues above any past footballer. Football may not be as physical as it once was (by that I mean violent), but the overall standard is far higher. Defenders and goalies are superior to their predecessors by some margin. Furthermore, the Champions League is viewed as the number one competition by many these days. The World Cup has become a rather drab affair ruined by overly defensive performances.

    Ps. Interestingly, Pele said that George best was better than him …..

  2. you say the standard is higher now, but so is the technology. pele used to play bare foot when he was young, for what he had then, and in an era where defenders could kick their opponents, his achievements are much significant. pele any day

  3. Lucas you are on drugs jajajaja george best better???? jajajajajaja not make me laught…… PELE is another league than others greats players. the maximum offensive machine of all times

  4. If he is stupid than he must be right 😉

  5. Pele was good at his time. Maradona was better than Pele at his time in football. And Messi surpasses all and it will be very difficult to see such a talented player ever. One cannot compare Pele to Messi when you talk about his skills. During Pele’s time there were very few outstanding players compared to the big bunch of placers and the standard of the game of football. One need not count international success to name a player the greatest ever. Messi is truly the greatest player ever in football.