Since Pelé retired, each new star has been compared to the “O Rei”. But no one has left more arguments than Leo Messi.
Pele or Messi? Messi or Pele? After the death of the “Rei do Futebol” who left his mark on history with some of the greatest feats that have been seen and will probably be seen again in this sport, the debate opens.
Is Messi on Pele’s level?
Since Pelé’s retirement, all the superstars of his generation have been compared to the “king”, including Maradona, Sócrates, Zico, Platini, Ronaldo Nazário, Zidane and Ronaldinho. Every era has had its “his” candidate for Pele. But perhaps no one has created a more interesting comparative debate than the “Pelé” of this generation, Lionel Messi.
The Argentine has been an amazing player for over a decade. In an increasingly internationalized and global world of football, Messi continues to shine alone as arguably the best. His only rival is Cristiano Ronaldo, who is only able to rival Messi year after year for the Ballon d’Or thanks to his efficiency in front of goal and his titles with Real Madrid and the Portuguese team.
Ballon d’Or record
When Messi won his sixth Ballon d’Or in December 2019, the Argentine came one step closer to Pele’s record. At the time when the Brazilian was playing, France Football only rewarded European footballers, a rule that was maintained until 1995, when the magazine started accepting those playing in Europe as well, regardless of their nationality. In 2007, the more traditional award for the best player in the world went global.
The Ballon d’Or rules change allowed France Football to make a historic correction. In 2014 the magazine revised the entire roster according to the same criteria currently in effect and awarded Pele seven trophies as the best player in the world: 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965 and 1970.
With this, Pelé became not only the record holder for the number of trophies, but also the youngest winner, at the age of 17, surpassing Ronaldo Nazário, who had won in 1997 at the age of 21 years and three months.
During the ceremony organized in 2014 by France Football, Pelé was moved. He thanked his teammates and the insiders of the clubs and the national team for this conquest. “I promised my family that I wouldn’t cry, but it’s too much. I just have to thank God for giving me the health to play for so many years. And I didn’t play alone “I only won together with my friends. People remember the players, but we mustn’t forget the people who prepare the shoes, the physiotherapists, the masseurs… I share these trophies with all of you.” Pele said in tears.
Today’s football against yesterday’s football
Pelé himself, with his humble character, has said several times that “it’s much more difficult” to play football today, and that in his time “they had more freedom”. But the king forgot that there were other difficulties in his time.
“The ball and the shoes, for example, were made of real leather and with each kick you could hear the last bellow of the animal that this leather was lowering”, explains Ruy Castro in his book “Os Garotos do Brasil”. . “They were coarse and heavy, and in wet grass they weighed twice their original weight,” the writer continues.
Once upon a time meadows and fields are a separate topic. They were potato fields, goat paths, with so many potholes and potholes that porters had to wear knee pads. The shirts weren’t “dry”. They were made of sailcloth, which by the end of the 90 minutes was almost as heavy as carrying a partner on one’s shoulders. Between boots, balls, shirts and shots, imagine the effort it took to finish a corner kick or a header cross then.
No boxes or tactical analysis
But apart from winning three World Cups with the Brazilian team, which no other footballer has managed to do, perhaps the best argument in favor of Pelé is that he achieved virtually all of his football successes when there were no cards. Pelé started playing in 1956 and FIFA didn’t create the cards until May 1970. Former players say the rivals’ main tactic against Santos or Pelé was to bet on the “10”. One can only imagine what 15-year-old Pele would have done in football with yellow and red cards.
At that time there was no scouting, video or tactical analysis. One team faced opponents who had little or no idea how to play. It was like playing Russian roulette.
The star among all superstars
If today the fight to be the best player in the world comes down to two legends, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, imagine how different the situation was then. We are talking about Di Stefano, Puskas, Bobby Charlton, Garrincha, Evaristo, Kopa, Fontaine, Eusébio, Gerd Müller, Tostão, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Cruyff… Yet Pelé was the best among the different generations of stars who marked a period. Not counting the defenders and goalkeepers he faced: Yashin, Banks, Maier, Zoff, Castilho, Beckenbauer, Djalma Santos, Bob Moore, Nilton Santos, Breitner, Krol.
The controversy over ‘unofficial’ goals and matches
Another debate is about goals. According to a survey carried out by Diario As in 2019, based on data from Santos, CBF, Brazilian television Rede Globo and the book ”Pelé” by Orlando Duarte, the Brazilian scored 1,283 goals in 786 games. 743 of those goals came in 449 of what we would now call competitive matches. And another 540 in 337 friendlies.
Not to be missed