In the present day and inevitably in the future there will always be the debate surrounding the greatest football player(s) of all time as well as the significance of the different eras in determining the greatest player of all time. There are many ways to present an argument which can be in the form of the trophies that have been won, the genuine quality and ability of a player or perhaps the supporting cast in which the characters plied their trade. In any sport it would be nice to win the best trophies and honours that exists and in football, the World Cup is the ultimate dream for any player. Receiving the honour of being the FIFA Ballon D’or winner is also an outstanding achievement but can you be considered the greatest of all time without winning either?

There are many fans and experts who are of the belief that the greatest player of all time must inspire his nation to World Cup glory. While this may be a strong point of view there are other aspects that make this weak. The beautiful game is a team sport and some players doesn’t have the supporting cast to qualify for a World Cup let alone win the tournament. We have also seen on the international stage and even the club level where players have been let down by their teammates and even in some instances their managers. Despite all the arguments of what makes a player great or the greatest, isn’t the quality and ability of the player that should make the ultimate difference for the contenders who we consider the best of all time?


The Contenders

In the never ending debate, there are some constants who dominate and these names are mostly from the South American region. The likes of Edson Arantes do Nascimento or simply Pele, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima and Ronaldinho of Brazil, Diego Armando Maradona and Lionel Andres Messi of Argentina have all been mentioned or considered as the greatest of all time. There are a few Europeans in the mix such as Zinedine Zidane of France and Dutch master Johan Cruyff. These players were and are simply head and shoulders above others of their generation or era. All are gifted with immense quality and ability while a few listed have revolutionized our beautiful game and also took the level of the game to unbelievable heights.

Different era/generation

Perhaps the greatest and best finisher to have played the game, Pele is believed to be the protagonist of his generation from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. In the early days, the level of competitiveness was not very fierce with Brazil and the other powerhouses having their own way. Surely the likes of Germany, Argentina, USSR and Czechoslovakia proved very strong opposition however the quality remained in a small circle. Not to take anything away from his ability, Pele had a great eye for goal with an excellent touch and awareness in and around the penalty area. It is only possible to compete or defeat the opposition that is in front of you and undoubtedly Pele and his Brazilian teammates were quite simply better than the rest.

Diego Maradona is best known for speed, excellent technical ability, balance and exquisite dribbling skills. His ability and imagination are perhaps defined by the ‘Hand of God’ but such is the genius of this man. In the era where Sports Science was just about taking off Maradona displayed charisma, mental strength and great leadership on the pitch. With new knowledge based on science that was nonexistent in the era of Pele in terms of nutrition and conditioning, the little magician looked imperious and was on a different level from his competition. The development of the game would have increased the competitiveness however the Argentine had no real competition as he demonstrated everything associated with the myth that surrounds the entertainment aspect of the game.

In the modern era or what most refer to as the modern game, Sports Science plays a significant role as well as the development of the game. The advances made in terms of coaching, tactics and analysis of play makes it ultra-competitive across all aspect of the game. The level of competition throughout the globe has increased significantly and the gap between the traditional powerhouses and the developing nations is very small. Zidane, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are perhaps the first players in the modern day to defy the laws of physics. Consecrated with tremendous balance and a wide range of skill they revolutionized the game especially the magic and imagination of King Ronny.

Perhaps the enigma that is Lionel Messi has surpassed all expectations in the world of football with his imagination, innovation and share quality. The Argentine walks around with perhaps the biggest reputation in the history of the beautiful game and is perhaps the epitome of what a makes the modern day so unique.

The demands in this present day is such that one player can play up to 60+ games for the season. There are so many different competitions at club level and the players also compete in international games. With travelling and the different methods of preparation makes sports science even more crucial in the game today. The advancement has been crucial and that may have prolonged a few careers in the last decade at least. So grueling, fierce and demanding is the game today that most owners, managers and fans demands top quality players with that ‘extra bit of quality.’ Those players are seen as potential difference-makers when the game is tight and in the balance because they have what it takes to create something out of nothing at any given time.

There are so many experts with information that helps the players to be at their peak or optimum level every time or most times when they enter the pitch. Sports science now tell the players the weight ideal for optimum performance, what to eat, when to select a particular diet and how often to change diet. There is also the physical aspect where players are instructed to gain or lose weight, the muscle mass required based on a particular body type and based on the schedule the medical staff will instruct the coaches of how many minutes in a particular game a player should play. All these are tools that the modern-day professionals can use to their advantage to improve and take their game to insurmountable heights.

The debate may be never ending regarding what era is the best and who is the greatest of all time. With the evolution of the game and the advances in sports science, the modern day has become extremely competitive and as such nations, coaches and players are continuously seeking ways to get better. Perhaps in the days of Pele and Maradona the players were more gifted however it can be argues that modern-day players are far more efficient and innovative. The stars of today are way more protected on the pitch by the referee than back in the day however it is understandable because due to the high pace of the game in this present moment injuries are aplenty.

At the end of it all, everyone has their preference and because of ‘loyalty’ many may not change their opinion. However as fans and lovers of the beautiful game we all must count ourselves lucky to have witnessed some of the best magicians and pioneers of the game. However despite whatever the requirement(s) is to be seen as the greatest ever player, the sheer quality and ability of the player is perhaps the best tool that can be used to reach any reasonable and logical conclusion.