The world of football has been lining up to praise the incredible skills of Lionel Messi after his spellbinding show against Bayern Munich.
The Barcelona forward put on another scintillating performance in Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat of Bayern, managed by his former mentor Pep Guardiola.
Messi’s magic allowed Barca to break the deadlock in the 77th minute and his wonder goal three minutes later brought the fans at the Camp Nou stadium to their feet.
The question is now being legitimately raised once again: is Lionel Mess the greatest footballer of all time?
With the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and George Best also in the mix, it’s a divisive question.
Premier League managers yesterday joined the debate.
Messi is still to convince Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino that he is better than Diego Maradona.
Pochettino, who, like Messi and Maradona is Argentinian, believes the 1986 World Cup winner remains the greatest.
“For me, it is always Maradona. I am sorry Messi. I love Messi, but for me, it is always Maradona,” Pochettino said.
“I was lucky that I played with Diego Maradona. Maybe Maradona is one step up, because he is my idol.
“Messi is this type of player, for me the best in the world today, better than Cristiano Ronaldo and he can decide a game.
“Maradona, for my generation, is always a very special player. When I was a child Maradona was like a god.
“It is difficult in your mind to change your view and say Messi is better or Ronaldo is better, but right now Messi is the best in the world.”
On who he would pick in his team, Pochettino said: “Now? Messi, because Maradona is fat.”
Looking at Wednesday night’s performance, the 43-year-old said: “When Messi wanted to, he decided the game.”
Everton boss Roberto Martinez was intrigued by Messi going up against a side led by Guardiola.
“You are running out of words to describe him,” Martinez said.
“I thought it was probably the most interesting game that we have seen this year.
“It was two very similar ways of playing the game, two similar philosophies, one team probably with the most significant player in world football in Lionel Messi and the other missing three important players.
“The performance of Messi has given him the edge of being the best player in world football at the moment.”
Former Barcelona defender Ronald Koeman, now boss of Southampton, said: ‘‘He makes it look so easy, but it is so difficult. He is a great player, maybe the best in the last 20 years.’’
The Dutchman favours Messi over Ronaldo, in part due to his past in Catalonia. “I am Barcelona,” he said.
Sean Dyche, whose relegation-threatened Burnley could do with some Messi magic, said: “I saw a lot of Maradona when I was a kid. I don’t think, at times, Maradona was surrounded by as many good players as Messi.
“I have seen him live a couple of times. You seemingly think he is quiet in a game, and maybe the opposition are thinking they are keeping him quiet, then 30 seconds later it is job done.
“That is often the mark of the greats who can turn a game on its head.
“And still he’s relatively young. I am sure there is a lot more football left in him and a lot more goals.”
In the run up to the Champions League semi-final first leg, Pep Guardiola said he would have no special plans to deal with Messi, saying he was “just too good” to be stopped, and Barca defender Gerard Pique felt Messi’s performance proved him right.
“Guardiola was right, I knew that if Messi is inspired no player can stop him,” he told Marca.
“When Messi is inspired, nobody can stop him,” Barca defender Gerard Pique said.
“His second goal was incredible.
“It’s a pleasure to have him with us.”
Messi has scored eight goals in seven Champions League starts for Barca this season.
“Messi does things that nobody else does,” Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta said. “We are lucky to be able to enjoy having him.
“I take my hat off to him once again.”
Messi has also been pivotal in Barca’s domestic campaign.
The Argentina international has scored 40 goals and set up 11 in 35 league appearances to help Barca remain at the top of La Liga.
“Having Messi in the team guarantees everything,” Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “He doesn’t just score goals, he gives assists, he works and wins the ball.
“He’s the best player in the world.”
Messi and Barca return to Primera Division action at home to Real Sociedad tomorrow (5pm) before they travel to the Allianz Arena on Tuesday to face Bayern in the return leg.
The world of social media will again be watching with interest.
Former Holland and Barcelona striker Patrick Kluivert tweeted: “He really is from a different Planet £Messi even if u are supporting another team u have to admit this.”
Gary Lineker added: “It’s such a joy to watch Messi. The greatest!”
Barca striker Luis Suarez also got in the act, posting an image of himself and Messi grinning from ear-to-ear in their changing room on the social media site, saying: “Come on!! What a good win and hard work of the whole team!!!! I leave a picture with the best in the world.”
Meanwhile Guardiola felt the stuffing was taken out of his side by the first goal and was quick to stress that their defeat was not solely down to Messi’s efforts.
“Not only Leo. The club is very good team. They’re fine. They’re very solid. Obviously I will not say what I think of Messi. All are very good.”
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