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“One day he’ll score six,” said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.

That’s not hard to believe.

But, objectively, all that Messi has achieved at this point in his career is the right to be mentioned in the same breath as Pele and Maradona _ or Maradona and Pele, the order depending on which of those two you consider to be the best.

The World Cup remains a big black hole on Messi’s resume.

“When he plays with Argentina, he doesn’t have the same success,” Pele noted. “People are always asking me, ‘When will there be a new Pele?’ Never! My father and mother shut down the production line.”

But with each new record, each additional trophy he wins with Barcelona, the stronger the argument for Messi becomes.

All being well, Messi will this month or next become the first player to score more than 12 Champions League goals in a single season. He will also soon net the eight goals he needs to become the all-time record scorer in Barcelona’s illustrious 113-year history. Cesar Rodriguez, at least for a few more weeks, now holds that club record with his 235 goals in official matches from 1942-55.

And Messi is still only 24. If he carries on at this rate for another 10 or even five years, the Messi, Maradona or Pele debate might have a clear winner.

“When he finishes his career he may be the considered the best ever,” said Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez.

Given the competition from Pele and Maradona, however, that is still a big ‘if.’

The simplest and fairest solution is this: Accept that, for each era, there is a footballer who towers above the rest. Pele, Maradona, Zinedine Zidane and now, unquestionably, Messi.

But we don’t need to compare Messi against those other players to understand a blindingly simple truth: The way he plays football, his humble and inventive genius, is an absolute delight to behold.

How lucky we are to live in his time.

But fans in Pele and Maradona’s eras felt that way, too.


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