Why Maradona Was Better Than Messi and Ronaldo

Sports & Opinion

It is one thing to be a brilliant player surrounded by other brilliant players. But Maradona made magic out of mediocre materials.

Soccer fans are fortunate to live in a time when two superstars are simultaneously making the claim to be the best player in the history of the sport — and more fortunate still that we can watch the contest between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo play out, week in and week out, live before a global audience of billions. Thanks to YouTube, I can watch high-quality videos of their most compelling performances, and of every goal they’ve ever scored.

When Diego Maradona was staking his claim to the title of best ever, most of the world could only get a quadrennial glimpse of his genius, when he turned out for Argentina in the ’82, ’86, ’90 and ‘94 World Cups. Growing up in India during that period, I never saw highlights of his performances for FC Barcelona or Napoli (a city where he’s still regarded as part deity, part royalty).

There are now some video highlights online that preserve a grainy record of him in his pomp — including THAT goal against England in the Azteca Stadium on June 22, 1986. But these only hint at what he was capable of. They don’t constitute sufficient supporting evidence to the argument that he was the best ever.

What makes it harder still is the even scarcer evidence for claimants of previous generations: Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas, Spain and Argentina’s Alfredo di Stefano, Brazil’s Pele, the Dutchman Johan Cruyff, Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, et al. That they played under different conditions and rules, and in different positions, makes the argument moot, anyway.

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