It’s perhaps somewhat inevitable that whenever the name of Diego Maradona is mentioned, the name of Lionel Messi will somehow be brought into play, and vice versa, given their personal stature, nationality and status in the sport of football.
The two icons are almost an inseparable entity when discussions touch on the history of Argentine football as there will inevitably be comparisons between them due to the fact that they both share, and are also derivatives of, the same culture.
They are successive inheritors of a dominant and unique Argentinian football identity, almost distinctinctively similar in their wizardry on the pitch as they are distinctively dissimilar in their characters. Maradona preceded Messi in historicity. There was Maradona and then there was Messi.
“Leo grew up watching videos of Maradona,” Messi’s father, Jorge, said in quotes carried by Diario Sport. “We gave them to him.”
Interestingly, Maradona was Messi’s coach during the former’s two years at the helm of the Argentine national team, between 2008 and 2010. Maradona took care of Messi and gave him prominence in the setup, and even in those early days it was discernible that they were fundamentally different in both character and behavior.
For one, Maradona always displayed the inclination to praise Messi publicly while simultaneously being constructively critical of him, leading to a relationship that others would opine was based more on genuine mutual respect and admiration rather than just friendship. It was after all a relationship that began out of football, the joint passion they both zealously shared with every fiber in their bodies.
“Out of respect for Leo I don’t want to say if he is better or I was better,” Maradona once said when asked to compare himself to Messi.
“You have to leave him alone. I love him very much and I enjoy it whenever I see him on the pitch. But he doesn’t have the personality to be a leader.”
And Messi had this to say of Maradona when his time came to lead Argentina:
“We know what he means to Argentines. He supports us fundamentally, because people listen to what he says and it’s good that he’s with this group. What he says is almost sacred.”
Maradona and Messi. Two distinctive, dominant Argentineans with their own unique, unparalleled legacies in the annals of football history, a history shared in part both in Argentina and Spain. Maradona had a brief two-year spell with Barcelona and a single season at Sevilla while Messi has spent his entire senior career with Barcelona. Maradona much preferred to ply his trade in the Italian Serie A and was the undisputed deity of Napoli, while Messi is still most highly regarded by most as the God of Barcelonean football.
Both icons played their way mesmerisingly into the hearts of Argentineans on the international stage, with the former maestro elevating the football-obsessed nation to the highest levels in the World Cup competitions, especially with his legendary ‘Hand of God’ victory against England in 1986.
The younger, no less a maestro, is still weaving his wand and casting spells of enchantment on the pitch despite entering the beginning of his twilight years.