Messi could be crowned fifth king

Immortality beckons:Argentina’s Lionel Messi will have the opportunity in this World Cup to enshrine his name amongst the pantheon of greats.— PHOTO: AP

Immortality beckons:Argentina’s Lionel Messi will have the opportunity in this World Cup to enshrine his name amongst the pantheon of greats.— PHOTO: AP  

A new World Cup competition is just around the corner, but on this occasion it is not only football which arrests your attention. To be honest, I’m pretty scared about what is going on in Brazil prior to the competition, what with the demonstrations of the workers. I am scared of Brazil being thrown out of the tournament prematurely. I would be happy to go wrong, but it would be hard to imagine what could happen in a World Cup in Brazil without Brazil.

Not being an expert in economics, it seems to me that Brazil could have organised a World Cup without so much overspending, without so many new stadia. This requirement of FIFA seems nonsense to me. If you can spare the money, then fine, do whatever you want. But it appears to me that we must be realistic, just like I was in the World Cup in Chile in 1962. I did what I could with what I had.

The usual suspects

Now to football: I think the candidates are the usual suspects: Germany, Spain, Italy, Argentina and Brazil. This time the South American teams are going to be strong for a multitude of reasons. The weather, the venues, all this will influence events and this influence will increase as the competition continues. It will have to be seen if Spain can withstand the pressure of being the defending champion. I do not see Xavi and Iniesta as good as four years ago, but they may recover. Certainly Spain has good players, but it remains to be seen whether they are physically and mentally prepared to defend the title.

Brazil is ever competitive and is always one of the favourites. It could certainly become world champion only if it manages to play well together as a team. I think that Neymar will be the key Brazil player. However, I do not think that Brazil is yet fully prepared to sustain a rhythm which could help it as the best team in the world. The team is still not there, it is too young.

Lionel Messi will have the opportunity to reaffirm his status as heir to the throne of the four great players in history. I always say that the kings of football were Alfredo di Stefano, Pele, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona. In Brazil, Messi could stake his claim to be the fifth challenger to the World Cup crown. It is a throne which has been lying vacant for some time now. After Maradona left, it looked as if the crown was going to be passed on to Ronaldo, then after that Ronaldinho and Kaka. But they couldn’t claim the crown.

I believe Messi is by far the best in the world today. But the World Cup is like a window, everybody can see everything. And if Messi does not do well, it could cost him dear to repair things, just like it has cost many other great players before him greatly to demonstrate that they were in World Cup competitions. So Messi should have a good World Cup. Not necessarily win it, because winning a World Cup is a very difficult task and there are many things that could happen. But it would show the personality of the captain of the Argentina team. A good World Cup will give him a certain protection, but this will not last long, because two months later he has to go back to Barcelona, to play well and win the domestic title.

Germany is without doubt another favourite. Germany always has the dynamism, but now it can do other things. It plays a very attractive football. The only problem it might face is the climate, which will threaten the pace that all European teams will need if they want to compete with the South Americans. But Germany is always there.

Belgium, the underdog

England and Portugal, however, I do not see them as candidates. The English, when they leave the island, seem to drop their performance levels by some 40 per cent. Portugal is an “appearance” team — always looks good but nothing ever really happens in the World Cup competitions. Both these teams have excellent players, but it appears to me that Belgium could cause the greatest surprise among the European teams.

And speaking of the World Cup in Brazil, I cannot help but remember Pele. I was lucky to be with him at Santos and in my opinion no-one can be compared to Pele. I never saw anyone like him. He was a superman. He was a player who, being rather small in stature, could jump a foot in the air and pull the ball from some of the best headers of the ball in the world. He took free kicks with the left foot or right. He was a panther with the nose of a bloodhound. Sometimes he would seem not to be on the field at all, then all at once he would hold his hands high, jump and bring down the ball from six feet in the air with his chest to perform his own private hat dance with the ball. He also possessed great intelligence. There were and are still great players such as Diego (Maradona), Cruyff, di Stefano, Messi, Cristiano (Ronaldo), Ronaldinho, Rivelino or (Franz) Beckenbauer. But Pele was from another planet. — Hawkeye / Chivach Sports

There were and are still great players, but Pele was from another planet, writes 1978

WC-winning coach Cesar Luis Menotti

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