John Giles: My man Messi is the king of this era
Read John Giles exclusively in the Herald
The debate about Lionel Messi’s place in the history of the game and whether he is the greatest player that has ever lived is now in full flow, and rightly so.
As always with these discussions, I tend to avoid outright comparisons of players from a different era for the obvious reason that many of the true greats have no video record to give us a point of comparison.
I’ve never thought it makes any sense to compare from one generation to the next. It’s all based on opinion anyway, because there is no definitive measure.
Greatness is filtered through the mind’s eye and memories. Stanley Matthews will mean nothing to a young, football mad kid in Dublin today and that’s the natural way.
But Messi is so good in every facet of the game that he almost demands comparison with other true greats from different eras.
Put it this way, I can’t think of any great manager who wouldn’t have picked him.
I can’t think of any great team that would not have been all the better for Messi’s presence and from a personal point of view, he’s a player I would have loved to have shared a pitch with.
Not against mind you. I’ve seen him make a mug of too many top class players in his time and since I’m allowed pick my own team in a daydream, I’d want to be on the same side as him every time.
His brilliance is sustained, consistent and unselfish. Of the three, the most important to me is his willingness to share his talent around.
He took some stick for that penalty gimmick with Luis Suarez and I know there were videos doing the rounds very soon after of kids copying it which wasn’t great,to be honest.
In that context, it was the wrong thing to do, but I think I’ll forgive him that sin and so too would the ghosts of all the great players if they are watching, I’m sure of that.
They would forgive him because of the sentiment at the root of the action. His instinct is always to do what is best for the team and not for himself.
When you have the talent he has, that might just be the hardest thing of all to do.
My opinions on Ronaldo have changed down through the years. I cannot deny the goals he scores and the impact he has on Real Madrid, but I think even a blind man can see the difference between him and Messi.
Some people are just as willing to forgive Ronaldo his overbearing ego as I am to give Messi a pass on the penalty issue, because of what he can do when he is on his game. At his best, his power, pace and precision are phenomenal and qualify him for greatness.
By virtue of his incredible statistics alone, I have to concede that he is a great player but I’m allowed a preference too and Messi is my man.
The reason seems obvious to me, but might seem like nonsense to a young lad growing up in Dublin now who has heroes just like I had and they are no less valid.
Maybe even more so because my idols were almost legends. I never saw them play and when I was in the middle of it during my playing days, I was surrounded by an extraordinary generation which spanned the globe.
I played with and against Best, Law, Charlton, Beckanbauer, Pele, Cruyff so I have my own evidence to support any claims for greatness but most people still saw very little of their heroes.
Manchester United fans saw their lads playing every other week and when Match of the Day started up, black and white print images were given life and everyone could see for themselves.
These days kids see every goal, every trick and even if Ronaldo has an ego the size of a moon, he is a clean-cut role model off the pitch and has never really put a foot wrong.
On it, everyone knows I have reservations and that’s why I have always rated Messi above him. Messi gave Suarez his hat-trick because he was born with the knowledge that he needs help on a football field. I’m not saying Messi doesn’t have an ego. He does and probably as big as Ronaldo's, but he keeps it away from his football.
Messi had the power to make Suarez’s life a misery at Barcelona. He could have done the same with Neymar. There were moments after Luis Enrique took over when it seemed like there was going to be a problem accommodating two major talents alongside Messi but it didn’t last long.
Messi was the key to that. He embraced Suarez for his energy and savage hunger to win and saw how Neymar could complete a deadly attacking line-up.
He could have done what Ronaldo has done at Real Madrid. I’m sure Gareth Bale would have a tale to tell about his time in orbit around the king of the Bernabeu. I think he would have been treated differently by Messi.
Ronaldo’s instinct as the top man in his club is to fight his corner and I understand that well. It’s part of what makes him such an unstoppable force. He must be the centre of it all and he is quite willing to let everyone know that publicly, even if that brings trouble on a team-mate as it did for Bale.
Messi has a much more subtle way of controlling everything around him. He brings everyone with him and there is no way anyone can argue that Ronaldo’s way is better.
I’m never a fan of statistics but Messi has won the Champions League four times, Ronaldo twice. Messi has seven La Liga titles, Ronaldo has one and three Premier League titles. By staying at Barcelona and sharing his talent around, Messi has a bulging trophy room. We know Ronaldo has a bulging torso and bank balance but his cabinets contain more individual awards than team medals.