Monday 19 March 2018

Barcelona maestro has long way to go before joining 'greats'

Sean Diffley

So, apparently, we have another to add to the pantheon of greats in sport -- Lionel Messi, who scored four goals for Barcelona against Arsenal.

Is he out there on his own as the greatest player in the world, worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Diego Maradona, Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas?

I recall, by the way, that Stanley Matthews (one of the greats?) described Maradona as "the best one-footed player since Puskas".

And somebody else declaimed that "Di Stefano was manufactured on earth, Pele was made in heaven".

Pele himself didn't go quite that far when discussing his ability. He told us recently that "I, Pele, was born for soccer, just as Beethoven was born for music". As you'll notice, modesty is never allowed to intrude on greatness.

And what now? Messi will go with Argentina to the World Cup where his manager will be Maradona -- who, of course, masterminded Argentina to win the 1986 World Cup when he applied the Hand of God to sink England.

Pele underlined his fame by winning the World Cup three times with Brazil, in 1958, 1962 and 1970 and unless Messi who is a mere 22, outperforms that feat, Pele is still top of the pops in soccer.

But soccer is not the only sport to produce "greats".

How about boxing and Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis? Or tennis with Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Rod Laver, to mention a few?

And athletics: Jesse Owens broke five world records and equalled a sixth in May 1935, all in the space of 40 minutes in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A year later at the Berlin Olympics, where his skin colour sorely discomfited Hitler, Owens won four gold medals.

In rugby, cases could be made for Jack Kyle, Mike Gibson, Gareth Edwards and Brian O'Driscoll.

What about Juan Fangio, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher in motor racing? And golf? Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer?

There is no doubt that Messi has shown all the signs of developing into an outstanding sportsman and may in time join the list of the greats.

The "greats" in soccer, I hasten to declare -- hardly in the roster of the overall greats, those from the wider world of sport.

Just take a couple of outstanding personalities, Louis and Owens. Both when travelling with their team-mates in the USA had to remain in the bus while their white colleagues went into the roadside restaurant with its prominent sign "no blacks served here".

Also, there was no invite to the White House for Owens after those 1936 Olympics -- President Franklin Roosevelt spurned tradition and ignored him.

Those days are gone and no sporting figure has done more to despatch them than Ali who told the establishment to take a running jump at themselves and became the outstanding exponent of the Sweet Science.

For me then, Muhammad Ali is the greatest of all time.

Irish Independent

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