Lionel Messi the Live GOAT; Pele the GOAT-Emeritus; Maradona, the Late GOAT

Lionel Messi the Live GOAT; Pele the GOAT-Emeritus; Maradona, the Late GOAT

A heated debate is concluded decisively, as one era of Pele's beautiful game ends and another begins
2 years ago
4 mins read

I would have loved to say that Lionel Messi is the G.O.A.T (Greatest of all time) and that he didn’t need to lift the ‘solid gold’ FIFA World Cup trophy to prove it. But that would be speaking for only one-half of the 4 billion people who love this Beautiful Game. As Argentina prevailed over the defending champions, France, after full time, extra extra-time, and a penalty shoot-out, the debate was finally laid to rest after the biggest prize in the world of sports was decided.

READ ALSO: 3 Controversial Football Rules That FIFA Must Change

Messi is the live GOAT, or incumbent GOAT if you will, because he’s still active. Pele was GOAT-Emeritus and Maradona was the late GOAT. Honourable mentions are Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio, Cristiano Ronaldo, and David Beckham in that order. So what’s David Beckham doing on that short shortlist? Because of what he did with the dead ball for free kicks. Retired English Premiership referees have admitted, after the fact, that awarding fouls outside the box against opponents of Manchester United, when Beckham wore the jersey Number 7, had weighed on their conscience as heavily as a penalty call.

READ ALSO: Messi Stands Head And Shoulders Above The Rest

I think FIFA should weigh in and relieve sports writers of the moderation of this debate because they may have vested interests and outsized biases and influence. Each era of football had its own GOAT. Each region of the global family of Association Football have their own GOAT. Why are goalkeepers excluded from consideration for GOAT accolades. Pele still talks about Gordon Banks’ gravity-defying leap to save his header headed for goal in 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Was Lev Yashin, the goalkeeper of the Soviet Union in the 1950s/60s, a man or a myth? My point is that it is disrespectful of past and present football greats for our TV and smartphone generation to be going on about who the best is: as far as I am concerned, it is impossible to create an objective panel of parameters to decide this fairly across the generational divide.

George Weah, George Best, Eric Cantona, never went to a World Cup tournament. That’s me just raising more dust.

The Qataris put up a magnificent spectacle for this year’s World Cup in spite of the best efforts of the world press to make rain on their parade. They flew in many retired soccer stars to Qatar and had them grace the matches. The word was that they had sent a plane to Brazil to pick up Pele but he was too indisposed. Honour is due to the organizers.

There will be many takeaways from the matches in this tournament. Top of that will be Thriller in Lusail Stadium – the final match between France and Argentina. I will let Sid Lowe tell you that heart-throbbing tale – “Messi Emulates Maradona …” in The Guardian. I choose to write about two Messi assists that were more beautiful than goals which helps to explain the deserved adulation he gets around the world.

In the Q/Final fixture against the Netherlands, Messi picked up a pass in the Dutch half of the midfield. There were eight orange jerseys and only two other sky blue stripes in that right side. There was no trigonometric pathway to the Dutch keeper who was about 45 yards away. That was until Messi invented one. With the Adidas Al Rihla ball tied firmly to his left foot – manette per valigetta style (briefcase chained to the hand) – Messi took his Dutch entourage to the arc of the penalty box. Just when the commentators were about to say for the umpteenth time that this was a fool’s errand, Messi clipped a perfectly-weighted 3-nutmeg pass to Nahuel Molina (24 years old) who stretched his right foot to close the deal. Argentina defeated the Netherlands on penalties to advance to the semifinal.

In the semifinal against Croatia, 22-year-old Julian Alvarez scored a spectacular solo goal with a 70-yard run that was pure genius. It reminded people of Maradona’s second goal against England’s Peter Shilton in Mexico in 1986 in a re-litigation of the 1979 Falkland’s War. But for reasons you will soon discover that goal received a lesser buzz than his second – which was a mere tap in – because of the Messi assist that created it. Cell videos from spectators shared on YouTube have shed some light on the sequence of events that produced the Best Assist of Qatar 2022. Here’s how it happened:

Croatian defender, Josko Gvardiol (20 years old), is 6 foot 2 inches tall and he normally plays as a centre-back. But he had been detailed to mark out Messi in this match. He had succeeded fabulously. That was until the 65th minute when Messi planned a conspiracy. He conferred with Alvarez and probably told him to distract Gvardiol for a moment. Alvarez picked up the ball and made a beeline for Gvardiol who was lurking in Messi’s shadow. Gvardiol fell for it and went to tackle Alvarez. Messi slipped away and received Alvarez’s pass and then waited for Gvardiol to resume his man-marking duties. Messi was about to showcase his dead ball dribble skills with one of the world’s up and coming most fearsome defenders as a foil:

With the ball under the influence of the big toe of his left foot, Messi began a Kick. Start. Stop-tango with Gvardiol and they drifted towards the goal area. Just when it looked like this beauty of a dance would be uneventful, Messi made a right-footed one-nutmeg flick to Alvarez lurking in between spaces who closed the deal. Argentina beat Croatia 3-nil to set up the final with France.

As we celebrate the achievement of Argentina and Messi, of FIFA and the organizers, we also celebrate ourselves who see something beautiful and recognize it for what it is – imperishable and inimitable. Association football was invented in Victorian England and the rules of the game were codified 159 years ago. This is 2022 and we are just grateful to watch Messi the incumbent GOAT ply his awesome trade. In the next four years we shall gather again to celebrate another with the mandatory requirement that the honourable mentions play routinely at the highest level: for football is a gift that keeps on giving.

Ngene, Prime Business Africa’s public interest analyst, writes from Atlanta.


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