Welcome to another Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off. Ahead of this weekend’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid, we ask football writers Jim Butler and Rob Smyth whether Barca’s front three – Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar – are the best strike force of all time…
Yes, MSN are footballing perfection
“If we’re talking cold, hard stats, then MSN are the greatest” – Jim Butler, sports writer, Virgin Media
Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar are among the best footballers of this or any generation. But, as every football fan knows, individual talent does not always guarantee team success. On this occasion it has, however. From the moment Suárez joined his South American chums at the Nou Camp, his teamwork, Messi’s instinctive genius and Neymar’s athleticism have combined to create the ultimate strike force. Their chemistry is sublime, their movement is incredible, heck even their numbers follow the perfect pattern: 9 (Suárez), 10 (Messi) and 11 (Neymar).
In Arsène we trust
During his 20 years at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger has sent his team out to face a significant number of superstar strike forces. Some of them have impressed the Frenchman and some haven’t. But only one has prompted him to shake his head and utter the expression: “They transform normal life into art”. His comment came this March after Messi, Suárez and Neymar combined to rip his team apart.
The stats don’t lie
If we’re talking cold, hard stats, then MSN are the greatest. Last year, the trio set a new Spanish record by scoring 122 goals between them. This season they are on 107 already with 11 La Liga games definitely to play and at least two UEFA Champions League games to play.
No-one can improve them
Even if you had all the money in the world, who would you possibly bring in to make this three-pronged attacking spear better? Ronaldo? Not enough of a team player. Thomas Müller? Not mobile enough. Robert Lewandowski? Too erratic. Zlatan Ibrahimović? Not even in his self-centred dreams. No, this combination, whether by accident or design, is as good as it could possibly be.
Throughout history there have been some sensational strike forces. But the claim that Brazil’s 1970 collective (Jairzinho, Tostão, Pelé), Manchester United’s Holy Trinity (George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton) or Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stéfano, Francisco Gento and Ferenc Puskás are better than or equal to MSN does not stack up. Brazil’s threesome only operated over one World Cup; Madrid’s trio weren’t subject to similar competition and Best, Law and Charlton only managed one European Cup victory. If (read: when) Messi, Suárez and Neymar hold aloft the Champions League trophy at Milan’s San Siro on 28 May all bets will surely be off.
No, it’s too early to call
“They are almost playing a different sport to great strike forces of previous generations” – Rob Smyth, sports writer, The Guardian
It’s too easy nowadays
Anyone denying the individual and collective genius of MSN needs to see a doctor. But, let’s be fair, they are almost playing a different sport to great strike forces of previous generations. Today’s pitches, for example, are like bowling greens. The legendary Brazil attack of 1970 – Jairzinho, Tostão, Pelé – redefined football despite playing on uneven, rock-hard surfaces, while Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit spent their glory years at AC Milan navigating a cabbage patch.
They’re helped by lousy defenders…
The standard of defending is as low as it has been for decades. Some of this is down to rule changes that have tilted the balance towards attack and some of this is because, although there are great players who play in defence, there are no great defenders. Contrast that with the golden age of Serie A, when Napoli’s Diego Maradona and Careca played against back fives that were almost airtight.
…and a softer game
MSN play with fearless abandon partly because they are very talented and partly because, unlike their predecessors, they don’t need to worry about the state of their shinbones. In the past, the prevailing football was less tiki-taka and more kicki-haka, which is why Marco van Basten was booted out of football at the age of 28, Maradona frequently had to endure the studs of Satan and Liverpool’s Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish had their legs tattooed almost every week. This demanded a level of physical and mental toughness that MSN will never need to summon.
Medals? What medals?
At the time of writing, MSN have one UEFA Champions League medal, which is the same number as Aston Villa’s Peter Withe and Gary Shaw. There’s every chance they will be able to fill a village with medals by the end of their careers but, for now, they are nowhere near some of the other greats. Nor have they – at least yet – put on a big-game performance to match that of Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás, who shared all seven goals in the legendary demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final.
It’s arrogance to say they’re the best
For some reason there is an arrogance to modernity that dictates that the best now must be the best ever despite this basic fallacy being disproved many times in the past. Yes, MSN may turn out to be the greatest attack we’ve seen, but right now it’s far too early to say that with any certainty.
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