In a new weekly column, Eoin Lyons will be taking some of the greats of sporting history and pitting them against our current stars with the hope of solving who is the better of the two. The duels will be across all sports, with suggestions happily welcome from you, the readers.
The first instalment however, will take a special twist. In light of last night’s Ballon D’Or awards, this week we will be pitting the three finalists for the award, Manuel Neuer, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo against the greats of football days gone by. I feel a debate starting already.
Lev Yashin (Then) versus Manuel Neuer (Now)
It is not often that a goalkeeper makes it to the final three in the running for the Ballon D’Or. This makes it all the more impressive that Manuel Neuer came so close to winning the accolade this year. In fact, the award has only been won by a goalkeeper once before, no other than Lev Yashin in 1963. Both are certainly the top two contenders for best ever due to their revolutionary style. So let’s look to the statistics.
In his 812 career games, Lev Yashin was the Soviet Union and Dynamo Moscow number one for his entire career. With 270 clean sheets, and an estimated 150 penalty saves, the Soviet shot-stopper was formidable between the posts. As stated, he remains the only goalkeeper to win the Ballon D’Or, and fought off stiff opposition to be named as the choice number one in the FIFA team of the 20th Century. There is no denying that the player known as ‘The Spider’ was a revolutionary, nothing short of world class.
Manuel Neuer on the other hand, narrowly missed out on the Ballon D’Or. Despite this though, his stats are equally as impressive. The German has also racked up over 200 clean sheets in a career which is showing no signs of coming to an end. He spearheaded FC Schalke’s successes before moving to Bayern Munich, where he has cemented his place as the best stopper in the world. His revolutionary style also makes him worthy of comparison to his counterpart from the past.
Winner: Lev Yashin, simply down to his sheer dominance. Although Neuer still has quite a few years left in him.
Diégo Maradona (Then) versus Lionel Messi (Now)
If you thought the first choice was controversial then you’re not going to like this. Both Argentinian, both entertaining, both unstoppable. This comparison will always ignite debate due to the sheer difficulty of deciding who the better player is.
If we look at the cold, hard facts then the decision is simple. For his club, Lionel Messi has scored 324 goals in 388 appearances, has clinched six La Liga titles, two Copa Del Reys and three Champions Leagues, while Diego Maradona’s club honours are not even worth mentioning. Since when is football simply about statistics though?
What sets Maradona apart from Messi is his independent dominance of not just each game, but entire campaigns. In 1986, Maradona was the shining light of the Argentinian World Cup winning squad in 1986, and again in the squad who reached the final in 1990. He also brought Napoli to their first Scudetto title in 1987 and their second in 1990. This is what many believe to be the key to Maradona’s superiority. Diégo Maradona was a player his team could not live without, a natural leader. However, can we definitively say that Lionel Messi is not the same? His technique is also magical, with the ball seemingly glued to his feet. It’s an incredibly close call.
Winner: Diégo Maradona. You’re going to have to win a World Cup Leo.
Pelé (Then) versus Cristiano Ronaldo (Now)
Again, this is another difficult one to call. The Brazilian striker is the first name which comes to mind when the eternal question, “who is the best footballer ever?” is asked. The Portuguese superstar on the other hand, has morphed himself from a visionary on the wing, to an absolute dream upfront.
Pelé has a staggering set of statistics behind him. 1281 goals in 1363 games, World Cup glory in 1958, 1962 and 1970, and unrivalled dynamism place the Brazilian at the top of virtually every list on this topic. He was named FIFA player of the century in 1999, and is a global ambassador for the sport. His vision, ability to shine amongst even the best opponents, and his charisma are unrivalled, by most.
Cristiano Ronaldo has become our generation’s face of soccer. Now that he has won the Ballon D’Or for the last two year’s running, the Real Madrid forward is showing increased dominance in world football. Since joining Real Madrid from Manchester United, he has scored a staggering 272 goals in 243 appearances for the Spanish giants. His form this season has brought time to a level above any other player on the planet, only his Argentinian arch-rival can possibly keep up with him.
Again it’s a close call, but there can truly only be one winner. If you are to rise above a man who can consider himself to be the beating heart of football history, then you need to be doing something very special.
Winner: Pelé. Although, the case may be different by the time Cristiano hangs up his boots.
Remember to leave your suggestions for future instalments of Then vs Now (in any sport) in the comments below or by tweeting with the hashtag #PAThenvsNow.
Pundit Arena, Eoin Lyons.