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Date : 19th September, 2016
Time : 1h 01’24” (11.37km)
Total distance run to date : 820 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1382864441
Who’s the greatest (football) player of all time? It’s the question that’s sparked a million conversations. Conversations that are driven, at least partly, by the fact that there’s no way to come up with definitive answer. Ultimately, it’ll always be a matter of opinion – and therefore endlessly debatable.
My personal view is that it helps to restrict your choice to players you’ve either seen live or on television. Pele or George Best may be the best – but I’ve only seen highlights of their careers and never been able to judge them over a series of complete games.
Once you apply those criteria I think that, despite the huge number of brilliant players who’ve plied their trade since the 1970s, the answers are fairly simple. The best player I’ve seen in major tournaments is Diego Armando Maradona. The best player I’ve ever seen at club level is Lionel Andres Messi. The former is a diminutive Argentinian. And the latter is, yes, a diminutive Argentinian. (Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency as a child.)
The conversation inevitably turned to football as I ran round Palermo Park in Buenos Aires with British Ambassador Mark Kent and Military Attaché Andy Hancock (pictured below). Argentina have lost three major finals in a row – 2 Copa Americas (both to Chile) and one World Cup (to Germany). People aren’t happy and are questioning the attitude of the players. A far cry from the World Cup victories of 1978 and 1986 (the 1986 campaign featured Maradona at his best including his ‘Hand of God’ and ‘Goal of the Century’ goals against England.)
The public being unhappy with their national team is something that will be very familiar to England fans. Although we can’t field a front four of Messi, Aguero, Di Maria and Higuain. Nor have we got to the final of a major tournament any time recently. So perhaps the situation isn’t that similar..
Anyway, the situation got so bad that Messi announced his retirement from international football in June. Which prompted a huge campaign to change his mind. Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri urged Messi not to quit, stating: “We are lucky, it is one of life’s pleasures, it is a gift from God to have the best player in the world in a footballing country like ours… Lionel Messi is the greatest thing we have in Argentina and we must take care of him.” The Buenos Aires mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta unveiled a statue of Messi in the capital to convince him reconsider retirement. NoTeVayasLeo trended globally on social media and there was even a playlist on Spotify.
The campaign continued in the streets and avenues of the Argentine capital, with about 50,000 supporters going to the Obelisco Buenos Aires – pictured above – on 2 July. The pressure paid off and Messi came back to play against Uruguay in September – scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory.
My running isn’t remotely in the same class as Messi’s football but the run itself was excellent. Good company and conversation, flat and cool with lots of landmarks and sights along the way. The only downside was that we ran over 11 km rather than the usual 10 km. It doesn’t sound like much extra, and it didn’t seem like much at the time. However, later in the week, when I could hardly put one foot in front of another, I regretted the extra kilometres in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
Thank you Ambassador and Andy for the company – greatly appreciated. And, Andy, good luck with that first marathon!
Alright, alright, I fudged the original question by naming two payers. I need to make a decision. I’m going for Lionel Messi. Partly for his sustained brilliance as part of the best football team I’ve ever seen (Barcelona.) Partly because club football is of a higher standard than international football these days. And partly because of his humility which is in stark contrast to some of his contemporaries (Cristiano Ronaldo, I’m thinking for you…).
And, in case the above isn’t evidence enough of the importance of football to Argentinian culture, here’s a video of the 1978 World Cup final in Argentina. It was the first World Cup I watched properly and, above everything, I’ll never forget the Argentinian fans with their ticker tape and streamers. And finally, almost completely gratuitously, here are videos of AC DC playing ‘Highway to Hell’ and ‘Thunderstruck’ at River Plate (football) stadium in Buenos Aires. Even if you don’t like AC DC, watch the crowd. A huge sea of Argentinian passion.