Never mind his off-the-pitch shenanigans, one of the supposed blemishes on Diego Maradona’s on-pitch record that many use against him in the greatest-player-of-all-time debate is that he never won the European Champions League.
That particular blotch however only serves to underscore how unrealistic and extremely subjective debates like these can be, and why, despite some seemingly unanimous calls across the world of sport, these debates will always remain just that – heated debates with contrasting viewpoints at the end of which animated participants will mostly agree to disagree.
It might for example come as a shock to a good majority that there are those who do not regard Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan as greatest boxer and basketball player in history, while in other contests between immortals like Jack Niclaus and Tiger Woods or Pete Sampras and Roger Federer people have taken the easy way out – statistics.
With Maradona and that missing Champions League crown, the flaws in comparing different eras are also exposed.
At his peak in Europe, at Barcelona and Napoli, only the champions of each league were allowed into the Champions League and so he missed out because in his time at the Camp Nou Athletic Bilbao were Spanish champions (82-84), and in seven years in Naples he was only Serie A champion twice (and even then miraculously) as the bigger moneyed giants Juventus, Milan and Inter shared out the Scudetto.
Yet a casual scroll down the list of winners of Champions League since the competition was remodeled to let in second, third and even fourth placed teams reveals that rarely have league champions gone on to lift Big Ears, from current holders Real Madrid through Manchester United (twice), Barcelona, Dortmund and Chelsea to the more glaring ones like Liverpool and AC Milan.
Had Maradona been allowed in through the back door too, there is no doubt that he would have taken it by storm the same way he did every other competition he graced.
Lost in the mind-boggling jumble of falling statistical records of current phenomenons like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is the fact that Maradona himself had staggering figures although he played much less.
He for example had 38 goals in just 58 games of an injury-shortened stint for Barcelona, and equally good averages before and after, like the 116 goals in 166 games as a kid at Argentinos Juniors and the 81 in 188 as a grown man at Napoli.
For him though the genius was not in the numbers but in the mesmeric talent and unmatched will power.
His legend at Mexico 1986 was not enhanced by how many he scored (and there were many), but how he scored them, the top pick being the mazy slalom through England’s bewildered defence which is still regarded as the greatest World Cup goal ever his star shone in Spain not because of the stats, but the amazing feats with ball including the winner in the El Clasico of 1983 when he rounded the keeper, shimmied defender Juan Jose into colliding with the post before slotting into an empty net to get the first ever standing ovation for a Barcelona player at the Bernabeu (only Ronaldinho has since managed that) and how could one just list the number of Maradona assists as if they were just crosses or ordinary passes, when a good many were delivered via the Rabona?
For Pele, Maradona’s eternal nemesis, in the argument-against column is that he never played in Europe, yet during his time European football wasn’t superior to South American the way it is now, thanks largely to resources. With his outstanding attributes, why would there be any doubt if he could have had the same impact on Europe yet Alfredo Di Stefano did and latter-day Santos great Neymar has?
The long-standing debate between Pele and Maradona was always going to be subjective, the main difference being that Pele was the superior physical specimen with the bigger stats including three World Cup titles and more than a thousand career goals, while Maradona was the more naturally gifted genius with extra oomph.
To show the difficulty in deciding, as adjudicator supreme Fifa decided to award them the Player Of The 20th Century gong to them jointly.
As an obsessed and entranced kid growing up, my opinion of it all was swayed by older viewers, analysts and panelists, journalists and publications etc, and I always had a list of greatest footballers crammed into my head that had Pele, Maradona, Beckebauer, Cruyff, Di Stefano, George Best and Eusebio in that order, one to which I then personally added Zidane, Ronaldo Da Lima, Baggio and Ronaldinho, and into which I now must fit Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The arguments where those latter two are concerned generally have this Ronaldo as the superior athlete with the all-round completeness that would have him fit into any team in any league, and Messi as the more naturally blessed of the two men whose goal-scoring madness is destined to eclipse anything ever seen before, the common downside being that neither has won the World Cup.
But should we hold the missing World Cup trophy against them as some have done the Champions League against Maradona and Europe against Pele? Ultimately I don’t think so, after all Cruyff, Di Stefano and Eusebio didn’t win it either, Best didn’t even play in it, Ronaldo Da Lima didn’t win the Champions League and Baggio conquered neither
With the Champions League record now his and the La Liga record to inevitably be put out of reach, Messi has combined the stats with that intangible X-factor, the oomph which Ronaldo can’t match when they are done I am increasingly certain I will be inclined to place Messi on top of that list of mine, and insert Ronaldo somewhere in the middle of it. Where would you?
SOURCE: Daily Monitor