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May 3, 2011

Ardiles hails Messi as world's best

World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles believes Lionel Messi is now the greatest player to have played the game, better than both Diego Maradona and Pele.

Ardiles, who won the World Cup with Argentina in 1978, is a close friend of Maradona and was involved in nurturing a young Diego in the national side.

In an interview with Ardiles ahead of the Champions League second leg between Barcelona and Real Madrid, the man credited with opening the door for top foreign stars, when he came to England along with Ricky Villa some 33 years ago, explains why Messi has now finally edged ahead of Maradona and Pele.

Ardiles, former manager of Tottenham, Newcastle and Swindon, who has also managed all over the world, said: "I think there is only one player you can compare with Messi, and that is Maradona, and in many ways they are very similar.

"But for some time I have thought that Diego could never be surpassed, and nor could Pele, but no longer. I would now say that Lionel Messi will go down in history as the No. 1 player of all time, the best that there ever was.

"One of the main reasons is that sport has improved, all sports. Tennis, boxing, athletics, sportsmen move on, and in football the modern game helps goalscorers and the ball players; the pitches are better, the boots are better, the rules have been altered to favour the attacking players.

"The way the players look after their bodies, the way that clubs and national sides employ so many people to look after their bodies, with what they eat, and just about everything you can think of.

"Yes, I would now say that Lionel Messi is the very best, but of course you would wonder just how much better Maradona or Pele would have been if they had the advantage of such advancements in the game.

"Messi simply needs to carry on the way he is, and his recognition as the world's number one of all time will not be long arriving.

"The big difference is that Maradona played in Argentina, then in Italy, while Pele stayed in Brazil, and during their time the pressures were less intense than they are now. Messi is under pressure all the time, and has to play in incredibly high intensity games all of the time, the Champions League being the perfect example.

"I certainly do not subscribe to the argument most widely held against Messi that he needs to be a winner at the World Cup like Diego and Pele before he can be the world's greatest ever player.

"George Best never even played in the World Cup but he is still recognised as one of the all time greatest, Di Stefano never won the World Cup, and Ryan Giggs has never played in one. It is an accident sometimes that you are born in a country of few inhabitants with little to no chance of that country playing in the World Cup, compare that to Argentina and Brazil where there are 180 million people."

Messi is the man inspiring great feats in the Champions League with Barca. Ardiles, who will manage the Argentine Legends in a new Football 40 football competition, says: "If it is going to be Manchester United against Barcelona in the Wembley final as we all suspect, then it is going to be very difficult for United because of Messi.

"Barcelona are a very, very good team, superb. But with Messi they are special, simple as that. Messi takes them to a different level.

"Spain won the World Cup and the Barca team has so many of their players, but Messi is by far their best player, and no team knows how to stop him, because he is unstoppable.

"It is incredible to think that there was a physical problem with him as a boy and that they thought he would never be able to take the physical demands of football, but that highlights the modern age where small boys with enormous skills can be encouraged, and now he illuminates matches on his own without actually having to raise his own game.

"The fact that he has scored 52 goals is simply incredible as he is not an authentic scorer in the sense he is not a centre forward or a striker. He is the archetypal No. 10, like a Maradona, Pele or a Bobby Charlton.

"A lot has been made of the fact that he now plays through the middle whereas he was on the wing at Barca, but he actually started in the middle in Argentina, and because Barcelona have so many good players in midfield they found a position for him on the right, but now he has blossomed even more moving into the centre."

• Ossie Ardiles, who is a global ambassador for Spurs is also an ambassador for Football 40, which launches its first public tournament at Craven Cottage on Sunday, May 29, kick-off 3pm, with Spurs v Arsenal and Chelsea v Fulham, with the winners playing in the final.

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