Barcelona captain Lionel Messi is not even in the “top echelon” of footballers and does not compare to two other ex-Barcelona stars, according to his compatriot Hugo Gatti. Former goalkeeper Gatti, who played 765 times across 26 seasons in Argentina’s Primera Division and also earned 52 caps for his country, insists Messi is especially inferior to Diego Maradona.
Argentina legend Maradona, a member of the 1986 World Cup-winning team, enjoyed great success with Napoli, having also played for Barca.
Those two sides go head-to-head in the last 16 of the Champions League this evening, with the first leg at the Stadio San Paolo (8pm).
Messi has a stunning 26 goals in 28 appearances in this round of the competition and is looking to inspire the Catalan giants to a fifth career triumph.
Barca have suffered humiliating exits to Roma and Liverpool in the past two seasons at the quarter-final and semi-final stages respectively, having thrown away three-goal leads across both two-legged ties.
Regardless, Messi still won his sixth Ballon d’Or in December having managed to score over 50 goals for club and country for the ninth time in the past decade in 2019.
His frankly-ridiculous career record for Barca reads 626 goals and 247 assists in 715 appearances, the 32-year-old heading into the first leg against Napoli on 23 goals and 16 assists from 28 games this term.
Yet Gatti insists Maradona is one of four players he believes are better than Messi – though he did not opt to name the South American’s long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo as one of those he ranks above his countryman – including Barca hero Ronaldinho.
“He [Messi] is some way away from the players I saw,” Gatti told Spanish TV programme El Chiringuito de Jugones.
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“And doesn’t even get into the top echelon.
“The best in my lifetime was Pele, then Alfredo Di Stefano. The rest are further back, and even Ronaldinho, as his best, was better than Messi.
“I was at Boca and Argentina with Maradona. Diego is better. No discussion. Messi isn’t better than him.
“And in addition, Diego cane alive with big moments, in important matches. Messi hasn’t.”
Despite that claim, Messi boasts an abundance of individual awards plus 34 trophies at club level, including 10 league titles, and boasts the most goals and assists in Barca and La Liga’s all-time history.
International success is notably absent on his CV, however, having lost in the 2014 World Cup final with Argentina as well as three Copa America finals, losing on penalties to Chile in both 2015 and 2016.
However Maradona’s son has come out in defence of Messi this week while speaking to Spanish radio station Cadena SER.
“I always say the same, the only player that won the FIFA World Cup by themselves was my old man, the rest needed help,” Maradona Jr. said.
“In the last few years, Messi had no help.
“[Maradona] never spoke badly of Messi to me, to the contrary, he always spoke well of him.
“My old man loves Messi a lot. It makes sense that my old man loved him, because they always had a good relationship.
“If the two ever played together, we could close it all down and give all the cups to the team that had them.”
Maradona Jr. added, however, when asked if his father was the best player of all time: “Without any doubt. Whoever says otherwise has no idea of football.
“Messi comes close to him obviously, I always said that Messi is much better than Ronaldo. He’s close to him, but you can’t compare a human being with an alien.”
And his father said in a separate interview with Il Matino: “He must continue his career and his life knowing that he is the best football player today.
“I enjoyed watching Leo with Argentina in every game.”
Messi will equal Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs by making his 141st Champions League appearance tonight.
Ex-Real Madrid shot-stopper Iker Casillas has appeared the most times in the competition’s history with 177 outings, with Juventus frontman Cristiano Ronaldo closing in on his former team-mate, having racked up 168.
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