Alejandro Panfil @AlePanfil
We live in an era where soccer stars and statistics travel on the same wagon. Even when we are aware that Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have brilliant skills and play like moving works of art, it is safe to say that they are considered the best in the world thanks to their numbers, which are of course, outstanding. Every time the debate is raised we turn to the books and count their goals, assistances, awards, titles and so on.
But there was a time when the most important icons where measured only by their skills, leadership and influence in their teams. Though their numbers were never bad, to be fair. One of these soccer monuments was Diego Armando Maradona. He didn’t win that many titles. As a matter of fact, he won only a few (10) compared to Messi (36) and Cristiano (31). But if we put those 10 titles under the magnifying glass we will see that Diego had incalculable value to his squads. To illustrate the point clearly, he won the World Cup with the Argentina National Team in 1986 and 2 Serie A leagues with Napoli in the seasons 1986/87 and 1989/90 with teammates who were not by far at his game level. Diego left a deep mark in soccer because he could transform medium standard middle-of-the-list teams and average second-rate players into unforgettable teams and players. For these two teams in particular, this kind of victory and recognition was as rare as hen's teeth and it was received with exceptional delight and joy. The situation was very different in Boca Juniors or Barcelona where the clubs were expected to win important titles.
Messi and Cristiano have similarities and differences in their way of playing, but they share their enormous scoring ability and also the fact that they have enjoyed powerful teams designed to make them shine and finish most of the plays. According to DataRef, Messi (878 games, 708 goals and 36 titles) and Cristiano (1018/742/31) have by far better numbers than Diego, who amounted to 679 games and 346 goals in all competitions. But that does not make them better.
In Diego’s behalf, the current soccer kings have not yet proven that they can single-handedly carry their teams in the way Maradona did in the past. It’s clear that Barcelona and Juventus will always be capable of winning titles, even when Leo and CR7 finally announce their retirement. But Napoli never won a league title again after its golden era with Maradona. In addition, Leo and CR7 have yet to reach Diego’s goal mark in the most important tournament in Soccer. Maradona played 4 World Cups and scored 8 goals while in the same number of WC Cristiano scored 7 goals and Messi just 5.
Although they belong to very different eras, there is a huge amount of respect between the three. “Messi and Cristiano, Cristiano and Messi… For me, these two are by far above the others. I don't see anyone approaching them. Not a single one achieves half of what they do”, Diego replied in a recent interview with France Football when asked about the players that made him dream. "Are you telling me HE said that I make him dream? Well, all I know is that he made me dream too”, was Cristiano’s reaction. Messi once told Diego that, as a child, he would watch the videos of him that his father Jorge had bought as a present: "When I was a child I began to watch them and it is a joy every time I look at them, because Diego is the greatest".
Maradona has a very special and complex personality, as we all have already figured. When we think of him we mainly have a mental representation of an iconic presence who could harmonize teams with his contagious competitive disposition and his magical stunts on the field. He would become the cornerstone on which a team could be built to fight against the biggest and be victorious. Although he couldn’t achieve success as a coach (Deportivo Mandiyú, Racing Club, Argentina National Team, Al- Wasl, Al-Fujairah, Dorados and Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata) Maradona is still a natural-born leader who can keep morale high and unite a team just by being there. He has the ability to inspire confidence and his players enjoy being coached by Diego and spending time with him.
As one of the best players ever or an earthly coach, Maradona was always a magnetic icon that not only transmitted leadership and courage to his squad, he also provided enough self-esteem to face the most difficult battles, something that he keeps doing in the present wearing the coach’s jersey on a team that fights for not be relegated.
At 60 years old, Maradona still actively belongs to the soccer world. And, even if compared to Messi and Cristiano, many people consider him as the best player in the world, ever. It was never about the numbers but the passion. It is not about the stats but the magic. “What planet did you come from cosmic kite?”. Happy birthday D10S.