To start with, Pele should not have talked about Messi or anybody the way he did, and at 78, he should have gone way past such pettiness. The Brazil legend has also been guilty of dropping the ball on many other occasions. That said, calling him a fraud is blatant football illiteracy.
Pele had a total of 757 goals in 852 official games for club and country. To compare his weakest stats with the best in each of their categories is mere desperation to call a dog a bad name. He stood out among many great players.
Some of Pele’s unique individual awards at the top level are
Most world cup winners’ medals with three medals
Youngest player to score a hat trick in a World Cup at 17 years 244 days
Youngest player to score in a World Cup final at 17 years 249 days
Most assist in a single World Cup tournament with seven assists
Most assist in World Cup history with 10 assists
Most assist in World Cup final with three assists
He scored 12 World Cup goals in all
Interestingly, these accolades have stood the test of time, some as old as 60 years even when the World’s biggest football tournament has now been expanded and players play with these records in view.
How is the player who achieved these without any prior target a fraud? Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have no World Cup knock out goal in 8 combined tournaments each between 2006 and 2018.
Also, shaming ‘old football’ and playing down players’ achievement just to elevate modern players’ reeks of ignorance because in a few years, the world will move past the current perfection but the achievements will remain untouched.
For instance, Thomas Burke was the first ever 100m Olympic gold winner; he bagged this accolade with an unprecedented 12.0 seconds in 1896. What looked unbelievable that historic day is a far cry from USA’s Trayvon Bromell who finished as poor as I would have in the Rio 2016 Olympics with a time of 10.06 seconds. Who is the legend between the two?
If Ronaldo and Messi were playing five decades ago, given the level of competition, technology, training and playing facilities, money, endorsement, recognition, awards etc, they most likely will not be as great as they are. In fact, they may not even be full time footballers as it was common in those days. Messi in particular might be knotting his tie in some office in Argentina as Doctors would have advised him against football owing to his illness years back.
For the about 30 and above, take a look at your secondary school outfit; no matter how well you were celebrated then, you will look funny because times have changed. How then do we expect a World Cup played 60 years ago to look attractive compared to the fast paced and sophisticated football which obtains today?
Guess what? In a few decades, in our lifetime, young folks who didn’t watch Messi live will make mincemeat of our current trends and make us see how silly the defenders are because a one legged 5ft 7 inches tall man takes them to the cleaners with predictable feints while running at a slow pace.
Knowing this, we must therefore respect the pacesetters who with little or no motivation to play were still devastating and will forever be unforgettable thanks to sheer passion and love for the game.
Pele is the greatest player for Brazil and Santos where he played for most of his career. Ronaldo has Di Stefano to contend with as Real Madrid’s all time best player and Messi does not come close to Maradona in Argentina.
It is much easier to crown players by their generation because they play or played in the same condition. While it is still not out of place to still have a greatest-of-all-time debate, we will be digging our graves by throwing shades at Pele because of his time because future generations will do same to us with Ronaldo and Messi.