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January 8, 2013 / ultrafox1963

Messi – now better than Maradona?

Lionel Messi continued in the first week of 2013 as he progressed through so much of 2012 – by setting records.

The Barcelona and Argentina forward became the first player to win the much coveted world title, the Ballon D’Or, for a fourth time, beating challenges from club team-mate Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi accepted the award at a lavish ceremony in Zurich with his usual grace and humility – qualities which are, regrettably, not always evident among footballers at the highest level of the modern game.

Despite missing out on the major honours with his club in 2012, Messi’s phenomenal goalscoring exploits made his claim to the title unassailable.

Messi - knocking spots off opponents yet again as he claims his latest crown

Messi – knocking spots off opponents yet again as he claims his latest crown

In addition to the 79 goals netted for Barcelona during the calendar year, he also bagged another 12 for Argentina in friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. His record of assists for club and country was also impressive.

To those of us from an earlier generation, comparisons with another Argentine legend, Diego Maradona, are inevitable. On many counts, Messi already has already staked a claim to be regarded as the superior player.

Maradona’s career record of 345 goals over 18 years (including two seasons at Barca) is somewhat more substantial than many would imagine, especially as he played for much of that time in predominantly defensive-minded leagues.

Yet Messi, at the age of 25, has already found the net an incredible 331 times at senior level and is on course to surpass Maradona’s tally before the end of the current season.

Furthermore, unlike his compatriot, Messi has also shone repeatedly in European competitions, assisting Barca to three Champions League crowns and topping the scoring charts at that level in each of the past four seasons.

In fairness, during the era in which Maradona graced the Camp Nou, Spanish football was far more brutal, and Barcelona were a less stable club. Had Maradona enjoyed the protection and support on and off the pitch now afforded to Messi, it is possible that he may have helped to lift the club to the same heights.

Maradona was never afforded the luxury, at Barcelona or elsewhere, of playing ahead of team-mates as accomplished as Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta – quite plausibly the most gifted midfield trio in the history of world football.

The next major challenge awaiting Messi will be the World Cup in 2014. As Argentine captain (a status Maradona himself, during his notably unsuccessfully time as national coach, bestowed upon him), his leadership credentials, as well as his substantial football talents, will be severely and rigorously tested.

But with several other players of exceptional quality – including Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria – currently gracing Argentina’s squad, Messi will have a glorious opportunity to claim the footballing prize he craves most of all – a World Cup winner’s medal.

Should he lift the trophy in July 2014, even Maradona may be left to languish in his shadow.

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