Pele says Messi still has some improving to do

Pele says Messi still has some improving to do

Published Jan. 20, 2012 6:56 p.m. ET

Pele thinks Lionel Messi still needs to improve at international level before he can be considered the greatest soccer player ever and needs to score more goals to come close to matching the Brazilian great.

The 24-year-old Messi already has won three straight FIFA Player of the Year awards.

''When Messi's scored 1,283 goals like me, when he's won three World Cups, we'll talk about it,'' Pele told Le Monde. ''Football changes. Records are there to be broken, but it will be hard to break mine.

''People always ask me: 'When is the new Pele going to be born?' Never. My father and mother have closed the factory.''


Although many observers consider Pele or Diego Maradona to be the greatest ever, Messi's form for Barcelona has him being mentioned in the same group.

Messi scored 55 goals in 2011 for Barcelona and already has 213 in 300 games for the club, 22 shy of Cesar Rodriguez's team record for goals. Messi is the club's leading scorer in the Champions League, scoring in victories over Manchester United in the 2009 and 2011 finals.

''I like Messi a lot, he's a great player,'' Pele replied when asked who his favorite current player is. ''Technically, we're practically at the same level.''

But Pele was also quick to point out that Messi has not scored at the same rate for Argentina in big tournaments. Messi failed to score in both the 2010 World Cup and Copa America last year, and has a modest tally of 19 goals in 67 international matches.

''He's a great player for Barcelona, but when he plays for Argentina he doesn't have the same success,'' Pele said.

Pele also feels he may have had more natural ability than Messi.

''No one knew which foot I was going to shoot with, I was two-footed. I also scored a lot of goals with my head,'' Pele said.

However, Pele knows that the debate over who is the world's greatest ever player will always divide opinion.

''Some people will say Beethoven couldn't play the piano. Others will say Michelangelo couldn't paint and that Pele couldn't play football,'' he said. ''But we all received a gift from God.''