The answer will change for generations and the debate will go on for eternity. The grandparents will say that Di Stéfano played well even as a goalkeeper in that Real Madrid in black and white, and that Pelé was the king; the father will answer that the revolution came with Cruyff, on the grass and on the bench, and that no one touched the ball like Maradona. And the son, conquered by 10 screens of different sizes, will hallucinate with the figures of Messi, his Ballons d’Or, his infinite goals with Barcelona and will be very clear that like him there were and will not be. And possibly all of them have their share of reason.
The sad death of Maradona has returned the eternal question to the first row of the audience: Who has been the best footballer in history? There is something like unanimity when the deck of candidates is reduced to these five names. But a minute after this luxurious selection, which leaves out names like Zidane or Ronaldo, opinions arrive, that there are as many as there are flowers in the field. So … strip the margarita.
Who do you think has been the best player in the history of football?
The experts speak
1In the usual debate about who is the best in the history of a sport, I always use an argument. If your life, or that of your dearest family member, depended on a game, which player, at its peak, would you choose? In football, the answer would be almost unanimous: Maradona from the 1986 World Cup. His career was not the longest or the one that holds the greatest records, there Pelé and Messi widely surpass him. That is not the point, however; football goes far beyond numbers and it only takes seven games, those in Mexico, to answer who is the best ever. Let’s add to the best performance in history what he did at Napoli, leading a coarse team to dominate the then best league in the world. Review, I beg of you, your games in the 80s: the criminal kicks, the merciless hunts, the arbitral permissiveness. Although, well, the aforementioned is summarized in a few seconds: that warm-up to the rhythm of Live is Life. It was the Best, with capital letters.
2Perhaps there are those who, at this point, do not know the full name of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but, made to discern between the five great footballers in history, to say Pelé is to appeal to the three values expected of a great icon: the genius, exemplary and charisma. To say Pelé is to speak of the best team in history, the Brazil of the 70s, of the polychromatic footballer who gave another dimension to the way of understanding the game, of the man who best represents this sport where it is religion, of the sublime scorer who He named goals that did not even enter the goal. He handled the ball like a great pick, but drove his impact off the pitch like no other. Anyone who loves football, beyond the colors, should take a look at the videos and documentaries of this out of series that never disappoint.
3My father, who died before seeing Maradona play, always insisted on the greatness of Don Alfredo. My father, who saw him play in the 50s and 60s, gave me no option to like another player and I ended up idolizing Di Stéfano. I recognize my weakness for Maradona and the difficulty of comparing different times, but my father could not be wrong. I will not forget the day that Real Madrid won the European Cup in Brussels (2-1), which I saw with my father through the window of the Spanish Center in Grenchen (Switzerland) up on a barrel of beer. My father, with tears in his eyes, shouted at me: “With Di Stéfano at Partizan we would have beaten it.” Later he explained to me all those wonders that Don Alfredo did. The only sure thing is that my father, now in heaven, will enjoy the two best footballers in history.
4Let us put aside the melancholy over the death of a myth. Let’s go back, for example, six months. What would they answer then? Me: Messi. The comparisons are hideous and the stages in which they succeeded very different. Football has changed, now it is more spectacle, more demanding: if one day you feel bad, they criticize you; if you’re okay, too. And that Leo has managed to manage it like nobody else. It has been overcoming all statistics, all parallels for more than ten years. It’s a goal, it’s assistance. He has six golden balls (Maradona would have at most three) and 34 titles (4 Champions). Your best match? Maybe against Getafe; maybe 2-6 at the Bernabéu; the 2011 Champions League final against United… It’s so difficult to choose! “Messi is Maradona every day,” Valdano said in 2013. And the best thing is that in the 12 years he has been in the elite of football there have been 4,380 days. The lack of the World Cup with Argentina is the only thing that weighs him down. Don’t worry, we can still see him play another.
5I will allow myself an unforgivable license for any self-respecting talkative: okay, I know I’m not right, Cruyff was not the best player in history and I think he would occupy the fifth place in this ranking, but I will defend his status as a player more influential for what it meant for football, a revolution that fortunately continues to this day. And I think that neither Maradona, Messi, Pelé or Di Stéfano could leave such a powerful legacy as Cruyff in their two scenarios: field and bench. Because from both of them he advocated a change in the absolute model, a total football in which looking for the ball prevailed. And so he made the Netherlands the best team there was without the World Cup, and so he transformed Barcelona into a dream team. And so … a question: do you think the Spain of tiki-taka drank from the Johan model? If the answer is positive, it is clear: he was not the best, but the most influential.