Brazil great Pele has stirred the pot ahead of this weekend’s Clasico, saying he would rather have Barcelona’s Lionel Messi as a team mate than Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
The 74-year-old Pele, who scored a record 1,281 goals, mostly for Santos, has watched the two phenomenal goal hunters jousting for the title of the world’s best player but said he preferred Messi because he was a superior team player.
“To compare Ronaldo and Messi? It’s a hard question. They are different kinds of footballers,” he told reporters in London’s West End on Friday.
“Messi is more for the team, preparing the game and assisting, but Ronaldo is maybe more like the Brazilian Ronaldo and scores more.
“But in my team I would decide Messi, but both are fantastic. Messi now is playing completely different to Ronaldo. Ronaldo plays only in front.”
Pele, in England to attend the Liverpool versus Manchester United Premier League game on Sunday at Anfield in his role as global ambassador for sandwich chain Subway, said both players would have scored bundles of goals in his era, even if they would have found defenders a little less accommodating.
Whereas the modern game is weighted towards attacking players, with tackling apparently a dying art, Pele was literally kicked out of the 1966 World Cup finals in England as defenders sought to rough him up.
“I think the good players would score goals in any era,” he said. “After all I managed to score 1,000 goals!”
Messi, the all-time leading scorer in La Liga with 253 at more than one a game, has struck 32 league goals this season for leaders Barcelona with Ronaldo on 30.
Brazilian Neymar has 17 for Barcelona — a return that has impressed Pele, who watched him develop as a youngster at Santos alongside his own son Edinho.
“Everybody had their fingers crossed for Neymar to keep going when he was a boy at Santos,” Pele said. “He needs a little more experience but has a great future.”
On Sunday Pele will get to run the rule over another young Brazilian, Liverpool playmaker Philippe Coutinho who is still to establish himself as part of the selecao.
“He is a good player and he is getting a good experience to play in Europe, but it’s too early to start talking about the national team because they have a lot of options,” he said.