Only a Game - And the greatest footballer of all time is...

Lionel Messi.
Lionel Messi.

For generations countless pints of beer have been guzzled, friendships destroyed and weddings missed, why? All because football fans love nothing more than to slug it out with one another over who is the greatest of all time.

I’m 30, so I grew up in awe of players like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo (the guy whose put on a wile stack of weight but used to be a goal machine), Rivaldo and yes, your eyes do not decieve you, Tony Yeboah.

When I was younger my father always used to harp on about how he thought George Best was world class but for him the greatest ever was Pele.

Admittedly, I have always had a soft spot for Diego Maradonna but my memory of him is of him running open mouthed in slow motion towards a television with eyes that would make one of the hounds of Hades look like a pet you’d want to take home.

People say that if you’re not from a particular generation then you can’t truly appreciate the likes of Pele, Maradona and Best but that’s a load of rubbish. YouTube anyone?

Whilst sitting glued to a computer screen watching back catalogues of Pele’s goals or Maradona’s trickery is no substitute for the real thing it still supports the theory that seeing is believing.

Be that as it may, the reason why we, as football fans, give the question of who is greatest of all time so much of our precious time is because there is no right or wrong answer (well, within reason).

I watched Lionel Messi score one of the best goals I have ever seen against Sevilla last Saturday. He put the ball through the legs of a defender before executing an inch perfect lob over the ‘keeper’s head. It was sublime.

There’s no doubting just how skilful and naturally talented Messi is; he’s certainly one of the greatest players of all time but you can bet your entire Credit Union savings and/or loan that in 10, 20 or even 30 years time, we, the future old age pensioners, will be telling our children and/or grandchildren that this new player they are raving about is no where near as good as Messi.

The beauty of the ‘who is the greatest’ question is in the actual discussion and recounting and retelling of distilled memories.

There are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour; there are 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week - the aforementioned measures of time are unquestionable. This is precisely why we love talking about the greatest player of all time. No matter how well informed you think you are or how fervently you argue it’s impossible to prove that Messi is better than Maradona or that Pele is better than Zidaine.

I’m sure when someone of my father’s generation thinks of the greatest player of all time they immediately think of either Pele or Best or even Cruyff. My generation would think of Zidane, Ronaldo, Messi and yes your eyes don’t deceive you a second time, Tony Yeboah.

As I type these words there’s probably a young boy living in South America, Africa, Europe or Asia who will divide opinion in years to come.

Young men, his same age, will argue why they believe him to be the best and old men like me will dismiss what they have to say with arrogance that only comes with getting old but one thing’s for sure we’ll all still enjoy having that discussion even if we know we can never be right.