No. Not at all.
The best football player of all time will always be Pele, with Maradona being a close contender.
It is funny that a player who plays in the modern era in a league which is not known for its defensive acumen, and against defenders mostly who play like mindless robots, can be considered the best ever.
Pele played against Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Burgnich and players of those ilk.
Maradona played against Baresi, Aldair, Ruggeri, Tony Adams, Maldini, Costacurta, Kohler and the kind.
Ronaldo and Zidane played against Maldini, De Boer, Nesta, Reiziger, Stam, Ayala, Hierro and the likes.
Even AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini has revealed the three players he hated to come up against, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are not among them. – “My toughest opponents would be Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, who was phenomenal in his two years at Inter, and Zinedine Zidane”
Imagine what the likes of Pele, Garrincha, Maradona, Di Stefano, George Best, Cruyff, Puskas, Gerd Muller, Romario, Ronaldo and the likes would go on to do with such defenses. They would bang in about 100–120 goals each season. Yes, that is how good they were. Ronaldo in his first season at Barcelona scored 47 goals in 49 games in the mid 90s at just the tender age of 19 – a testament to his otherworldly abilities that would reflect tenfold in the modern era. Same with Pele and others because a genius is always a genius, not governed and bound by time and place. A genius would adapt and improvise. would gain the physical and mental prowess of the era in question, and still overcome opponents and overtake his peers – a simple logic. Shitty arguments that the game is faster now, more athletic, players are better physically with better nutrition, training facilities only prove this logic all the more.
Still the modern players get injured, sit out a whole or a large part of a season, some very injury-prone, grimacing and writhing in pain(most of them being fake) at the faintest of touches yet people consider them to be physically superior and more resistant – the silliest paradox. If you think clearly, the players of the past did not have these many amenities or privileges but still they resisted injuries and even returned from career-ending injuries to play as before.
The players of the past had to face brutal tackles, murderous fouls but still managed to evade most of those tackles and even if they fell, they would get back up and resume playing normally unlike the modern prima-donnas who would fall and tumble and roll over all the more at mellower fouls. The modern-day forwards are heavily protected by referees. Offside rule in those times were more rigid. Fouls that are worthy of red card today were simply ignored then. Defenders of the past had the benefit of doubt over attackers and they could get away with those nasty fouls like the one committed against Pele in the 1966 World Cup that ended his world cup journey only to return in 1970 to make history once again. Same with Maradona – he was too hacked and kicked but he kept his balance and created magic. But modern defenders are severely restricted to play their full game as they have to keep in mind the red and yellow cards so easily handed out by referees. Modern football have become a carefully planned spectacle that is interrupted by enforced restrictions that impede free play.
The players of the past did not have any such advantages. They did not have such advanced training facilities or nutrition. They maintained themselves with what they had available. A grievous injury and their career were almost over; took a considerable time to return to full fitness. They did not have finely laid-out pitches; they had waterlogged, muddy and rough pitches to play on. They did not have those fancy boots and balls that swerve and bounce on their own. They played with old-fashioned leather balls but still made those follow their whim – proof of sheer class.
Besides, the FIFA World Cup is a benchmark (maybe the ultimate) for a footballer to be included in the list of the best ever. An annual event like the Champions League(not to take anything away from it) that is over-glorified in this modern day is best for deciding the best player of that particular season, especially in the last 10 years.
Messi is a genius without any doubt, a legend too – he has cemented his position likewise. You cannot undermine Messi and his obvious talents, certainly the best of the last decade. But his achievements are also as a result of cooperation with players like Xavi, Iniesta, Dani Alves, Mascherano, David Villa, Sanchez, etc., part of the system – the famed but boring and one-dimensional ‘Tiki-Taka’. In his most productive years with Barcelona, he could do nothing with Argentina who had excellent players, because the Argentina national team was and still is not as strong as Barcelona with no particular footballing ideology. Messi couldn’t do much and had been easily silenced. Again, people will argue about the 2014 World Cup that Argentina reached the final due to Messi and they did come second. Then they must remember that no one remembers the one who came second – Did anyone remember the Dutch team of 2010 World Cup? Did anyone remember the German team of 2002 World Cup? Did anyone remember the Argentina of 1990 World Cup? I hardly think so. Plus, the journey for Argentina up to the semi-finals was smooth in the last World Cup and it was DiMaria too who was instrumental for Argentina, not just Messi. Messi could do nothing, not any sign of sheer individual brilliance in the semi-final against the Dutch or in the final against the Germans, yet Messi and his fanboys are hellbent to put all the blame on Higuain, Aguero and the likes. Well, Maradona never complained when they lost in 1990. They accepted defeat graciously. Messi didn’t even congratulate the deserving champions, instead went on about his own arrogance and snobbishness, just waiting for his “Best player” trophy.
Now coming to the skill part, I would again repeat Messi is great yes, but Pele, Maradona, Zidane and Ronaldo ‘Il Fenomeno’ were much better. They had it all and in many case they were much better – goal-scoring efficiency and efficacy from all over the pitch, assists that were more creative, impeccable close ball-control, one-on-one success rate, dribbling through the whole team and even the goalkeeper, long passes, killer through-balls, offensive positioning, supreme play-making skills, vision, in-born natural abilities and not being a product of a youth setup, tactical awareness, unbelievable balance, body strength(especially Pele and Ronaldo), unique creativity that were way ahead of their time and many such more qualities.
Coming to Ballon D’Or or World Footballer of the year or whatever, for the past decade it has been just a sort of popularity contest denying far more deserving candidates in a few of the years like Iniesta, Schneider, Ribery, or Neuer. The last player to receive the award that was not a forward was Fabio Cannavaro in 2006. From 2006 and before, defenders, midfielders, and even goalkeepers were worthy inclusion among the top nominees. Now, a goalkeeper will have to perform at a minimum Lev Yashin-level or more to be even considered worthy. Same for defenders. Such is the pathetic state of this award. A fucking two-man show just for the sake of it.
Again, people can quote me statistics and individual honors which in this day of hype and publicity are more pronounced than ever. But these stat-obsessed people would not value actual aesthetics, brilliance that needs no medal, nostalgia created by this very brilliance, and sheer class that transcends stats and awards but wins people’s hearts while dumbfounding them.
Pele did everything 50 years ago that all the footballers of the past 30 years did. The sad state of affairs is that most people are either ignorant or unaware of these past legends who were better in most aspects. Thus, they refuse to acknowledge and are dismissive of them and are of the conclusion that Messi, CR7, Xavi, Puyol, Boateng and Neuer are the best ever in their respective positions. But by no means do these unfounded speculations diminish the value and legacy of these all-time greats. What they did will forever be etched in the minds of many and remembered fondly.
Even if someone watched a few of the matches or highlights or even some nice videos of Ronaldo “The Phenomenon”, he/ she will see how Messi and CR7 are like kids in front of him. He combined speed, acceleration, close ball control, trickery, precise and natural dribbling, positioning, accurate finishing, play-making in spite of being a striker, ingenious creativity, physical strength and balance – a rare mixture of talents to have – one of a kind. He never needed to improvise much, he was always relaxed. He scored goals for fun, not to create or break records or to receive adulation and praise. He dominated in every league he went to and for Brazil too. If it wasn’t for his successive knee injuries he would have gone on to be the best ever surpassing even Pele – such was his caliber.
To answer the second question, Messi is a legend indeed but just playing in an era where it is easier and smoother for the forwards. He clearly belongs to footballing heritage. Still, ranking him as such would be an arduous task that does not interest me.