Well, the obvious answer is to retort. And say no.
But that doesn’t always convince the person at the other end of the conversation and/or debate.
What you need is a set of solid answers that you can give to anyone who just comes up to you or to any other public gathering and starts proclaiming Messi as the greatest of all time.
Here are the three things that must always be mentioned whenever there is a mention of Messi being the undisputed greatest of all time player.
It is hard to compare players from a different generation.
How can one even think about objectively saying that Messi is better than Zidane, Ronaldo, Maradonna and/or Pele?
Yes, the competition was far less in the days of Pele and Maradonna. But so were the training facilities along with nutrition along with access to coaches/managers/information/psychologists.
So you can’t just say that Messi is playing in an era where there are essentially no weak teams.
One can easily make that argument for past legends as well.
In short, there is simply no easy way to compare players even from the same generation let alone from different generations.
It is hard to compare players that play different roles in a given system
Zidane was the playmaker. He could unlock any defense with a single swing of his sword. His role was not to score goals or put up hat tricks.
In his whole career, Zidane scored about 3 or 4 hat-tricks. Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic score that many hat-tricks in a single season.
So are we to believe that the trio of them is multiple times better than Zidane?
Different players have to play different roles when they go out on the field for their teams.
The same is the case with players who play further back.
People like Modric, Xavi, Iniesta, Kroos, Scholes, Giggs, Zanetti, Pirlo (the list is truly endless) don’t score a lot of goals. Nevertheless, they are a critical part of the team.
Just because Messi has the most number of assists or dribbles does not mean he is the greatest.
Barcelona has purposely (as they should) have changed their system in order to suit Messi’s strengths.
And Messi’s strengths are ball-hogging along with not-going-back-to-defend-for-the-team.
Credit where it is due, Messi is good enough to take full advantage of what the Barcelona coaching and managing staff give him.
He dribbles. He scores goals and he creates them as well.
However, just because he does that, does not mean he is better than any of the legends who have come before him.
When everything is said and done, the way people should judge the greatest of all time player is by how the given player has performed on the biggest of stages in the biggest of matches and under pressure.
If you take that criterion, Messi is nowhere to be seen since Pele scored some pretty difficult goals in multiple world cups while Maradonna carried the Argentinian side throughout his career against stronger teams and Zidane did pretty much the same with Juventus, Real Madrid, and France.
For all intents and purposes, Messi has not won anything with Argentina, while he has won everything with Barcelona.
That tells us two things.
First, he requires world-class talent to play for this team (as is the case when he plays for Barcelona).
Second, he wants those world-class players to not get in his way and just mold their games to suit his style.
If there was any question about Barcelona artificially inflating Messi’s on-field performances by unnecessarily instructing players to help him score more goals then we would see Messi performing at a somewhat same level for Argentina as he does for Barcelona.
Just compare Messi with Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has scored plenty of goals for Real Madrid and Manchester United. Unlike Messi though, he has performed supremely well for Portugal as well.
Not to mention that Portugal consistently has to face tougher opponents, at least defensively, than Argentina. Even with that advantage, Messi is unable to match Ronaldo in terms of international performances.
All of this indicates that Messi plays in a system at Barcelona that is specifically designed for him to perform.
Not every player has that privilege.
So it is impossible to compare Messi with some of the other world-class talent out there.
Scoring lots of goals does not mean you are the greatest
Numbers are numbers.
As Rio Ferdinand would tell you, they mean a lot.
And yes they do.
No one is denying the fact that Messi is one of the greatest players of all time.
On that note, it is also true that Messi scores a lot of goals.
But scoring worthless goals against La Liga teams in meaningless matches does nothing for you.
If you compare the number of important goals that various legendary players have scored in their careers, you will find that Messi isn’t such a clear GOAT after all.
Think about it.
When was the last time you saw Messi score a difficult goal against a quality opponent away from home in an important tournament while playing an important match?
On the other hand, Ronaldo along with Ibrahimovic and Bale have scored a multiple number of such goals in their careers.
The simple fact is that a high number of goals does not mean you are better than players who have less number of goals (even if we assume that the GOAT player has to be an attacking one).
No one player can be called the GOAT.
However, it is not hard to start bringing in ‘proof’ in favor of one player or another to prove that player as a candidate for the GOAT slot.
You can compare Ronaldo and Messi though since both are attacking players.
Even there, there is the problem of systems and each player’s contribution to the team he plays for. Besides, for most of his United days, Ronaldo played as a winger whereas Messi has only played in one position his whole life. That position is, wherever-he-wants.
It all depends on which era you are interested in and what type of player you are talking about.
Unfortunately, most of the time, when we are discussing GOAT players, we only talk about attacking players.
With that said, there is no question that the World Player of the Year Award should never go to a defender.
It should always go to the player who brings in the most number of people to the stadium because that’s how this sport is going to survive.
In the majority of cases, attacking players bring more people to the stadium than defensive players.