Every so often there is a spark that revives the debate about who is the best player in history: Maradona or Messi. And it is good that this is so, because the endless comparison between the two does nothing but delve into its indisputable greatness, like a tale about two giants that never completely obscures the shadow of the other. Football has become our most direct passport to childhood, there is no adult pleasure in this sport that equates us all for folly, to which we go with the nutritional illusion of an infant, and that inevitably pushes us to ask ourselves and again if we want more to dad or mom, Messi or Maradona.
One can try to spin arguments to defend the hegemony of one or the other but the final answer will never be entirely conclusive. Nobody can measure and definitively classify infinite spaces and the talent of both is found, precisely, in that utopian limbo, unattainable for the labeling industry that confers a certain order to our confused human nature. If someone does not deserve to be classified by a simple mechanism those are Maradona and Messi, so inaccessible to the understanding that they can only be abridged from a sentimental point of view: you can love one more than the other, you can even hate one over of the other, but nothing more.
The last one to try has been Zico, who is not just anyone in this business of sentimental sports. "Behind Di Stéfano, Pelé, Cruyff and Maradona goes Zico", my father used to say before Messi's irruption. And Zico says that Maradona was better than Messi, who played worse accompanied, who endured inconceivable marks and tickets in modern football and, above all, who possessed a greater competitive instinct than Barça. It is his opinion and deserves to be taken into account because Zico was also a giant – minor but giant, after all – and his analysis has nothing to do with the street performance of some gatherings or the interests of a brand of clothes, a specific club or an intermediation lobby. My father, however, for some time has not admitted any debate and has proclaimed Messi as the best footballer anyone has ever seen, tell his beloved Zico what he says. Even my opinion, that I am his only son and I see his very eyes, brings him without care.
There is one element, however, that does seem different between the two: chronology. In any of the aesthetic arts – and football is – innovation always brings added value to the technique and it seems difficult to understand Messi without the determining influence of Maradona. This does not mean much or should be used to tip the scales in favor of Pelusa, but remember to not betray that particular spirit of football that brings us back to eleven years as soon as a ball starts rolling. Because if the best thing that can be said about Messi is that he continues to play as if he were a child, it seems fair to admit that the boy still wants to play like Maradona.