By César Luis Menotti
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar. We are talking about three exceptional footballers, but I have always said that, for me, Messi is the best. That has particularly been the case last season, so I think he should very comfortably win the Ballon d’Or.
In fact, Messi has been competing at a different level for quite some time, in search of the crown worn by the four greatest players in history: Alfredo Di Stefano, Pele, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona. There have been many players who, for two or three years, looked like they could rule the game, but for various reasons they had no consistency. That is precisely what Messi is showing. This is a footballer who is decisive in eight out of ten games and probably plays a solid assisting role in the remaining two.
His appearances are really magical, hard to analyse. He is like those pianists who find chords no one would have thought of, chords which have not been written anywhere but which are held within the music they are playing and that one can hear in that music.
He always plays well, but there is something in him that makes the magic of talent emerge at some point, be it with an unexpected pass, a shot with his weaker leg or in an instance when he scores off a header. And he sustains all that over time.
It is also worth remembering that Messi means Barcelona, and that says a lot. Neymar has the same advantage of finding in his club the support he needs to unleash the football within him. The Brazilian is finding consistency. He has grown and he is a candidate to become one of the game’s greatest players.
He has always been a footballer with extraordinary technical ability, but now he is more of a team player, he is more sober in his play. He has started to understand that his talent is not enough to make him great, that he needs to use it when it matters. Day by day he realizes that he can only grow based on collective play, because he already has everything else.
Cristiano has what it takes and he has produced good performances, but he is hampered by the uncertainty within Real Madrid. Real Madrid sometimes worsens players’ growth prospects and transforms them, based on adventurers’ need to be successful. This is a team that relies on individual adventures rather than group play, a club managed by great men from the realm of finance who have been made to make money. And football is not like that.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is a great businessman who is not used to losing, but it is difficult to put together a football team that can play well and win. He assumes that, when you do not win, you can arrogantly dismiss one coach and appoint another without explaining why. Zinedine Zidane is there only to reverse Rafa Benitez’s shortage of wins. I do not think Perez has the vision to seek a representative style, which other teams do have. Just like, as a businessman, his goal was to earn money, his current objective is to get points.
I am not saying that Zidane does not deserve the chance. He was phenomenal as a player. However, I think that, had this been a problem involving major surgery, they would have picked the most experienced surgeon (or coach), the one who has operated on the highest number of hearts. Since this is football, they turn to a name that is close at hand, a home-grown player. We will need to see what happens.