Diego Maradona has once again sparked a debate about the greatest player of all-time after suggesting that Lionel Messi would never have achieved the same heights as him in a club like Napoli. Maradona, Argentina’s 1986 World Cup hero, claimed that his compatriot Messi is already ‘on decline’ following Barcelona’s 1-1 draw against Napoli the 1st leg of Champions League round of 16 match in Naples. Messi was mostly anonymous in the first half of the clash managing only one shot that flew over the bar and although he sparked to life in the second half, it was Antoine Griezmann’s ever presence mind that helped Barcelona escape with a draw from Italy. Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo Transfer Update: David Beckham Responds to Barcelona and Juventus Star’s Link to Inter Miami.
Messi, the first-ever footballer to win six Ballon d’Or trophies, has been compared to his national compatriot Maradona for the greatest footballer of all-time with Pele, Johan Cruyff and Cristiano Ronaldo also part of the debate. Both the Argentine legends and football magicians have led their club to unfathomable heights but Maradona has always been ahead of his junior self, courtesy the 1986 World Cup trophy – Argentina’s last World Cup trophy.
Although Maradona is celebrated more for his 1986 World Cup success, the diminutive genius is also an icon in Naples. Maradona, who had also played for Barcelona before moving to Napoli, transformed the Serie A club from a relegation-battling side to Serie A winners and also made them European champions in 1988-89. In his seven years stay at Naples, Maradona made Napoli giants in Italy and in European football and guided the club two Serie A titles (1986 & 1989), a Coppa Italia (1986) trophy, a UEFA Cup and one Supercoppa Italia title in 1990.
Messi is also a serial winner and has already won four Champions League trophies, 10 La Liga titles, three each UEFA Super Cups and FIFA Club World Cups and more trophies with Barcelona. Individually too he has been very successful and was part of the Argentina team that reached three successive tournament finals, including the 2014 World Cup.
But ever since his confrontations with Barcelona club technical director Eric Abidal, the 32-year-old has been linked with a move away from the Catalans. And Maradona was asked if Messi, who is approaching the twilight of his career, could improve a team like Napoli in the same he (Maradona) did when he made a shock transfer from Barcelona to Napoli in 1984.
"Messi has not lived the life I have. Leo could play extraordinarily in Naples, but he would not be able to do what I did. Let's be clear about that,” Maradona was quoted as saying by Spanish newspaper AS. The 59-year-old also suggested that Messi could be approaching his legendary end when he said that "Messi arrived at San Paolo in decline.” Maradona said this after Barcelona players, including Messi, struggled to show their magic against a well-structured Napoli team.
But despite saying that Messi could never replicate his success in Italy, Maradona admitted it would have been better if the “Neapolitans could have a Messi.” Maradona played from 1984 to 1991 at Napoli and raced his way into the hearts of the fans with his playing style and success. He is still revered in the Italian city which once worshipped him as their “God.” Napoli have since retired the iconic No 10 jersey Maradona wore during his time at the club.