Barely has the body of the late Diego Maradona been put to rest football fans are once again debating where the legendary Argentine ranks among the pantheon of football’s all-time greats.
There are many who believe Maradona, the principal architect of Argentina’s glory at the 1986 World Cup, is the greatest footballer of all time while others have their claims staked on Pele, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Be as it may, it’s way beyond doubt that Maradona – the hero of Naples thanks to his extraordinary achievements with Napoli in the late 1980s and early 90s – is definitely part of the conversation.
After the rise and eventual exit of Maradona, football fans never thought they’d ever see another Argentine footballer with the skills to match Maradona in their lifetimes, but then another diminutive genius named Lionel Messi broke through and began to steal the limelight in the mid-2000s.
While Messi has never been on par with Maradona’s achievements on the international World Cup stage, it’s undeniable that the six-time Ballon d’Or winner has achieved far more on the club scene.
Understandably the debate over which of the two geniuses is the greatest Argentine footballer is most likely to perpetuate for many years to come.
Interestingly, however, in the eyes of Sir Alex Ferguson – arguably the greatest coach in football history – there is a clear winner.
When legendary sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney passed away in 2019, it was revealed that he was firmly entrenched in the belief that Maradona was superior to Messi.
Graeme Souness, best remembered for his seven-season stint at Liverpool where he won five League Championships, three European Cups and four League Cups, however, is in disagreement with this opinion – despite the fact that he played against Maradona on numerous occasions.
Jonathan Northcroft of The Times had this to say in January 2019:
“With rising intensity Hugh and Graeme Souness debated whether Lionel Messi (Souness’s call) is greater than Diego Maradona (Hugh’s).
“An exasperated Souness had to finally beseech: ‘Look, I played against Maradona five times and I’m telling you — Messi.’ Hugh growled back: ‘I don’t care who you played against. It’s Diego.’”
Somehow Ferguson caught wind of their heated debate, and agreed with Souness’ claim.
“Told of this, ‘I would side with Souness on that one,’ says Ferguson. Maradona’s career at the very top was only a few years.’”
Most fascinating this coming from Air Alex Ferguson, to say the least as he believes that Messi’s remarkable longevity gives him the edge over his legendary compatriot.
Both Ferguson and Souness, who obviously know their football, had seen both Argentines at their respective peaks, so it’s thought-provoking that they are in agreement on this particular issue.
Needless to say, many others will still argue that Maradona was the better player, after winning the World Cup with Argentina and inspiring an unfashionable Napoli side to two Serie A titles.
But it definitely says a lot, and pulls a lot of weight, that Messi has managed to surpass El Diego in the eyes of the Manchester United all-time legend.