Somebody up above has plotted the Argentina-Germany final. And he seems to be torn between his love for Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
Statues of Argentine football legend Diego Maradona and his compatriot Lionel Messi were unveiled, along with a statue of former Argentine striker Gabriel Batistuta, ahead of the 2014 World Cup at a public square in Buenos Aires. (Reuters Photo)
The plot is perfect. Throw at Messi the challenge of repeating what Maradona achieved and settle the ‘who is better’ debate once and for all.
In 1986, when Maradona lifted the World Cup at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico, his opponents were the Germans, though from the west side of the Berlin Wall.
And in 1990, when he lost the trophy in a veil of tears and a lot of humiliation because of his side’s poor, scrappy game, Maradona’s opponents again were the Germans. What he won from the Germans, Maradona lost to them four years later.
In 2010, Messi’s side lost to the Germans and suffered the humiliation of a 0-4 loss. In 2014, his opponents once again are the Germans. What Messi lost to them, he can reclaim four years later.
Somebody seems to be working hard to make Messi retrace Maradona’s journey. The great fan up above is making Leo re-live Diego’s tears, travails and triumphs.
Maradona must be smiling. Messi must be nervous. And the fans are salivating. Finally, Messi has the chance to settle the debate, on a similar stage, against similar opponents and in a similar grudge match. The script is so similar that Messi appears to be acting in a remake of a Maradona film.
The Maradona vs Messi argument — a welcome distraction from the Maradona vs Pele discussion — has gone on for so long that it had to come to a climax. And a great denouement awaits us.
Critics often argue that the level of club football is much higher than international football and by dominating it for ages Messi has proved his greatness. With his penchant for scoring at an exceptionally high rate, he has earned the reputation of a ‘playstation player’, an epithet bestowed upon him by Arsene Wenger.
Messi has won almost everything he has touched. It is said often that once he reaches a final, he always ensures that his side lift the trophy.
But for thousands of fans, especially the ones who treat the World Cup as the final frontier, Messi is still not Maradona.
In 2010, in his second World Cup, Messi struggled to score. Though to be fair, he hit the goal post on so many occasions that it seemed he was destined not to score.
In contrast, Maradona’s second World Cup was an event made just made for him. Unless Messi does something similar, unless he makes the final his own, he would remain in Maradona’s shadow.
It is possible. The difference between the two players is not ability. But Messi is yet to prove that he has Maradona’s killer instincts.
Maradona, unlike Messi who seems to rely just on ability, would stop at nothing to win. He would dribble (1986), tackle, scrap, cry (1990), dive, dope and even cheat (1994) to win.
His ‘Hand of God’ goal is legendary. It is an enduring symbol of his desire to win. But there is another incident that shows why Maradona had a bigger appetite for success.
In the 1990 World Cup, Brazilian player Branco complained that he felt a little groggy and tired during the second half in their knockout game against Argentina.
He alleged that he was offered water laced with a drug by Maradona during the break. But nobody believed him until Maradona cheekily revived interest in the episode in an interview some years later.
He admitted to nothing, but did joke he had encouraged Brazilian players to drink from that water bottle.
Messi needn’t drug Miroslav Klose or Sami Khedira during the final. But on Sunday he needs to prove that nice guys also finish winners. And that too against Germany.