Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Just thinking about Messi

Comparing teams and players from different eras is fraught with difficulty, but when a star of the 1950s comments on today's soccer it is fascinating.

So it was nice to see 79 year-old French legend Just Fontaine praising today's net-king Leo Messi, who has just passed Pele's total of 75 goals in a year.

The top scorer in a World Cup finals with 13 at Sweden 1958 said fellow No.10 Messi was "the only one capable of scoring the same number of goals as I did" and praised him for confirming a short and light physique like his was the best for goalscoring.

Given Messi's often lacklustre outings for Argentina, without tiki-taka lieutenants Iniesta & Xavi beside him, it is hard to see him beating Fontaine's record in 2014. But today's tournament has a maximum of seven games compared to six in '58, which should help, although to reach Fontaine's tally you probably need to thrash someone in the group stage.

The 24 year-old Frenchman bagged a hat-trick in his opener against Paraguay, and ended his haul with four against West Germany in the 3rd Place Play-Off. The Marrakech-born striker won only 21 caps for France, scoring 30 times, an amazing ratio. He should be more famous than he is; perhaps that is because he spent most of his career at Reims and '58 was still early days for television in Europe, or rather because a broken leg cut his career short in 1962.

It is not the first time Fontaine has voiced an opinion on today's players.

At South Africa 2010 he took a dim view of France's forward line. He said of Franck Ribéry,

"He dribbles past seven players and then the eighth one takes the ball off him," of Nicolas Anelka, "someone said during the match he had leaden feet; well the head then too" and Yoann Gourcuff, "he's lost...he doesn't know who to give the ball to."

Given his record, perhaps we should cut him some slack.

"It wasn't easier to score in 1958," he insists.

-Sean O'Conor

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