Over the last decade, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dazzled football fans with their repertoire of amazing skills and phenomenal feats, competing for both club and individual honours with Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Such is their dominance of the modern game, followers of football argue continually over which of the two players is genuinely the best in the world. It’s also a debate that could continue long after the pair have hung up their boots, and the next generation of superstars seek to surpass their magnificent achievements.
Inevitably, when we look at the abilities and achievements of players like Messi and Ronaldo, questions are always raised about whether they could have accomplished their feats in other circumstances. Ronaldo has already proved his impact at two clubs, in England and in Spain, but Messi has never had the opportunity to dazzle “on a wet winter night in Stoke” as we often see mentioned on social networks, having spent his entire career at Barcelona.
Of course, the debate then starts to transcend time itself, as Messi and Ronaldo are compared to the greatest figures in football history, alongside legends of bygone eras such as Pele, Diego Maradona, or George Best. Such comparisons are eternally difficult to make, especially given the hugely different circumstances surrounding players of different eras; not least when we consider how the game itself has evolved and changed.
The Pursuit Of Physical And Technical Perfection
The very best footballers in the modern game are not only those blessed with technical ability and natural talent, they are also finely-honed athletes at the very peak of their fitness and physical form. Every aspect of their performances in matches and training is monitored meticulously, as coaching and technical staff seek to push players to their physical limits, and beyond.
From technical assistants to record and replay key moments during matches and training sessions, to dieticians and nutritional experts dictating the ideal body mass of each individual; modern players are practically machine-tooled for their respective roles and levels of performance. Consistency is king in the modern game, and there’s much more to being a top footballer than just turning up for ninety minutes each weekend.
This begs the question that quite possibly, today’s game is more about pace and power, physical strength and endurance, compared to previous eras. If you sent George Best through a time tunnel to play football in the 21st century, for all his wizardry with the ball in the 1960s, the Northern Irish legend might not even get a game in the 2017-18 Manchester United side.
Matt Busby used to lavish his wayward player with praise, but Jose Mourinho would likely have shown Best the door, with his side currently 80/1 title chasers with 888sport.
In contrast, if you shot Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo back in time with his current levels of fitness, his physical prowess alone would make him stand out from the crowd; but would he have developed both his physical and technical abilities so well back in the 1960s era?
The Portuguese star is arguably an optimal balance of the two, which makes him the outstanding player he is today, but with reduced opportunities to hone both aspects of his game, he might only have been an average player in the past.
Pitch Perfect Conditions For Football
These days football pitches are often as smooth as the baize on a snooker table, with top-flight clubs investing millions in the latest pitch technology. There’s even an industry that has quite literally sprouted around providing the finest quality turf. By comparison, the quality of pitches could vary wildly depending on all manner of circumstances in the 60s and 70s, which rarely prevented football being played.
Back in the 1970 FA Cup final, Wembley had hosted the Horse of the Year show days before the clash between Leeds United and Chelsea, leaving the pitch in a terrible state. Sand was used to level out the uneven playing surface, but the pitch became a quagmire and the conditions clearly affected the game. Needless to say, after a 2-2 draw between the two sides, the final was replayed at Old Trafford in Manchester.
These days, playing on such a surface simply wouldn’t be allowed at the highest levels of the game, and principally as a matter of safety. A muddy or waterlogged pitch would be considered unplayable in the modern game, but back in 1970 they were often the norm.
With Chelsea amongst the FA Cup favourites at 6/1 with 888sport this season, it’s hard to imagine Eden Hazard gliding across such awful pitches of the past with ease, compared to the perfectly prepared playing surfaces of today.
Technological Advances In Playing Kit
Over the last decade as we’ve marvelled at the mastery of Lionel Messi, who often seems to have the ball glued to his feet when he weaves through rival defences, he does so with a lightweight synthetic ball that is resistant to water, plus boots that are tailor-made to maximise the traction of his every touch. Back when Pele was strutting his stuff and dazzling crowds around the world between the 1950s and 1970s, it’s easy to forget that he didn’t have such luxuries at his feet.
In years gone by, when Pele would deftly curl the ball past a keeper from outside the area, the weight of the ball itself meant that such a feat was considered an art form; particularly if that ball was also soaked with water. When Messi does the same thing today, he makes it look effortlessly easy, but such swerving shots and curling finishes are undoubtedly aided by modern ball technology.
Compared to their predecessors of bygone years, technological advancements in the last decade alone, have brought dramatic changes to design and performance of modern footballs during matches. Scientific studies in the last couple of years have proven that a dimpled surface can greatly affect the aerodynamics of a football, allowing players to get more power and swerve into their shots.
At rather appetising 7/1 odds with 888sport to win the Champions League this season, Barcelona will need Messi to be at his absolute best. With a ball he can control so easily and boots fitting his feet like a glove, his marvellous technical abilities go hand in hand with the latest technology the sport has to offer.
Pele demonstrated his wonderful array of talents with a heavier ball and boots which invariably, were of a pretty standard and off-the-shelf design. One can only wonder at how magically the Brazilian icon’s skills would have combined with today’s technology.
Taking A Shot At Conclusions
Pondering how today’s stars would fare in bygone eras is a fun topic for debate, but also one which is firmly rooted in the realms of fantasy. It’s always likely that such a phenomenal natural talent as Lionel Messi would have succeeded in any era, because the best footballing talent has always found a way of emerging, but his development and style of play might also have evolved differently.
It’s sometimes argued that Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t possess that same innate natural ability, but his driven personality and determination have pushed him to excel, both technically and physically. He too could have cultivated those same attributes to success in past footballing eras, with the same burning level of desire to be the best; which he proudly claimed he would be as a raw 18-year-old, not long after joining Manchester United.
Greats of the past like Pele, Diego Maradona, and perhaps even Best, might have matched or even bettered the current generation of stars, had they developed their talents amidst the changes in football we’re accustomed to these days; not least with the technological advancements we take for granted, which they never got to experience.
Saying that one generation was better than another, or guessing whether modern stars could have coped in bygone eras, is venturing into the realms of fantasy football. It’s something we can only guess at. However, just like our parents and grandparents delight in telling us about the best players of their heyday, we will undoubtedly be doing the same in years to come, with our own children and grandchildren.