“Two extraordinary players, two aliens“Journalist Florent Torchut, author of Messi’s biography”Lion King”, published by Solar (2022), does not exaggerate in talking about two legends of Argentine football, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Two number tens, in the spotlight after Argentina’s victory in the World Cup final on Sunday 18 December against France on penalties (3-3, 2-4 tabs). With this triumph, the man with seven Ballon d’Ors, Lionel Messi, is perhaps the best player of the 21st century. Diego Maradona, nicknamed “The Golden Kid”, had offered this same reward to his country in 1986, 36 years earlier. He died in 2020.
Maradona was much more than just a footballer, a kind of rock star, with his foibles.Florent Torchut, author of the biography of Messi Le Roi Leo
“Small size, left foot, setter. We have constantly compared them”, recalls Florent Torchut, who is the last journalist to have interviewed Diego Maradona and knows Lionel Messi personally. But “The Lion King” hardly accepts the comparison. “Messi he always told me, i’m making my career, i’m trying to be the best player, explains the reporter. I fight against myself, but I don’t compare myself with others, especially with Diego.“Despite shared successes, the two men are very different on a human level.
Two players with “opposite personalities”
“Maradona was much more than just a footballer, a kind of rock star, with his flaws”, says Florent Torchut. “He had great self-confidence from a young age.A shell that takes from a difficult past. Born in a neighborhood of Buenos Aires forgotten by the state, the player had to assume the role of the head of the family. Thanks to him, his eight brothers and sisters were lifted out of poverty. “When you start your life with that on your shoulders, it gives you a sense of responsibility. I always say that Maradona had no youth”, analyzes Florent Torchut. With a committed disposition, the Argentine assumes frankness and very marked political ideas.“JI’m black or white. I will never be gray in my life”he said. Messi is much more introverted.
Messi’s simplicity in what he does on the pitch is incredible.Florent Torchut, author of the biography of Messi Le Roi Leo
“Messi’s life next to football is almost boringexplains the reporter. He’s someone who likes routine, as he told me in his last Ballon d’Or interview. He likes spending time with his family, playing cards with his friends, watching cartoons with his children. We are very far from Maradona’s escapades. The simplicity of this boy compared to what he does on the pitch is incredible. adds Florent Torchut. But his experience on competitions and his fatherhood helped him a lot to take a step back and be more confident.“A simple man, who leads a normal life, who has staked everything on football performance. He waited years before gaining the recognition of the people, contrary to the “rockstar” of 1986.
Two love stories with the Argentines
Maradona has always been a political object for Argentines. His career took off in full military dictatorship (1976-1983). “He was very young, very strong, analyzes Alexandre Juillard, journalist and author of “Maradona” (2010) at Hugo Sport and “Messi unsinkable“(2017) edited by Solar.
The military dictatorship needed Maradona so that every Sunday people were happy to see a phenomenon.Alexandre Juillard, author of Maradona and the unsinkable Messi
“The military dictatorship needed him so that every Sunday people were happy to see a phenomenon, adds the journalist. He represented the pride of the Argentines: thanks to him Argentina could be known all over the planet”, adds Alexandre Juillard. However, the Maradona myth is not necessarily unanimous in the country, echoing his verbal slips, the positive doping controls in 1991 when he played in Naples in Italy and in 1994 during the American World Cup, or even his addiction to cocaine. “Maradona has gone through very difficult moments. People say he’s a great person. Others criticize him a lot.“
Messi’s experience is much less controversial. But he never played in the Argentine first division, which not all Argentines like. He began playing football in his hometown of Rosario in Argentina before joining FC Barcelona at the age of thirteen at a time when the unprecedented crisis was raging in Argentina in the late 1990s.It is the mirror of an Argentina that at one point was going badly. He left because the agents brought him there for commercial purposes”, explains Alexandre Juillard.
Messi was asked straight away to win as well as he was earning at Barcelona but it was impossible.Alexandre Juillard, author of Maradona and the unsinkable Messi, published by Solar.
Which is why it took the young prodigy much longer to be worshiped in the countryside. “Argentines have to identify with Argentine clubs, their players often come from there, recalls the reporter. So we immediately asked him to earn the same as he did in Barcelona, but it was impossible.“In 2021, after winning the Copa America, it’s a relief.
“In terms of stats and track record, it’s been a long time since Messi surpassed Maradona, recalls Alexandre Juillard. Maradona didn’t win the Copa America, Messi did. Maradona didn’t win the Olympics, Messi did.” He lacked this title of World Champion, he achieved it, like Maradona, in 1986.
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Two world victories, two symbols
“What happened in 1986 with Maradona is beyond comprehension. There were a lot of very symbolic things. They weren’t expected to win the World Cup, develops the journalist. In 1986, they built their victory on a feeling of loneliness against everyone. Even at home it was said that it was a team that could do nothing.
36 years later, in 2022, a mystique has developed around the Argentine team. He has only lost one game in two years, against Saudi Arabia (1-2) at the start of the World Cup in Qatar. “They were expected. Especially since for Messi it could be his last World Cup, explains Alexandre Juillard. This final was the most important match of his career. For Maradona, however, there was still much to write after 1986.“
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With this victory, Messi has definitively entered the heart of the Argentines. “But Maradona is more than a footballer, he’s a popular icon, recalls Florent Torchut. When he was 18-20 years old, he had a Christ-like head. He is the best and worst of Argentina. On the pitch he was capable of extraordinary things, on the other hand he was smart, he had a hidden son, he had to fight. It was a romantic life. He is enshrined in popular memory. Messi remains a footballer. Once he takes his shirt off, he’s almost Mr. Everybody.”