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Lionel Scaloni picks Messi over ‘critic’ Diego Maradona

If I have to choose one, I choose Leo, I have something special with him, says Argentina’s World Cup-winning coach

Our Bureau Madrid Published 18.01.23, 05:00 AM
Lionel Scaloni with Lionel Messi after Argentina’s World Cup victory last month.

Lionel Scaloni with Lionel Messi after Argentina’s World Cup victory last month. Getty Images

Argentina’s World Cup-winning coach Lionel Scaloni believes Lionel Messi has surpassed Diego Maradona as the greatest player of all time.

“If I have to choose one, I choose Leo, I have something special with him. He is the best of all time although Maradona was also great,” Scaloni told Spanish radio station Cope on Tuesday.


Argentina fans have long preferred Maradona over Messi, but attitudes appear to be shifting after the Paris St Germain forward led the team to lift the World Cup last month for the first time since Maradona inspired them to win it in 1986.

Maradona, who passed away in November 2020, hadn’t been a fan of Scaloni’s coaching. Scaloni’s appointment as coach in 2018 had been met with widespread criticism in Argentina. Maradona had scoffed at the decision, saying Scaloni “couldn’t even direct traffic”, never mind winning with a football team.

Scaloni, who was eight years old when Maradona inspired Argentina to World Cup glory, revealed that he prioritised speaking to Messi when he was named national coach in November 2018, while the forward was taking a break from international duty following the disastrous World Cup in Russia.

“The first thing we did was have a video call with Messi. He said he was honoured and the first thing we said to him was ‘Come back. We’ll wait for you’. That’s what we did and eight months later he came and found an incredible group,” Scaloni added.

“Coaching Messi is not difficult. You cannot correct him on a technical level but sometimes you can instruct him to press or to attack in a certain way. When he smells blood he is the number one.”

Scaloni also defended his goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez after he was criticised for his overzealous celebrations following Argentina’s triumph, such as making an obscene gesture when collecting the Golden Glove award and carrying a toy baby with Kylian Mbappe’s face on it during the open-top bus parade.

“There are attitudes which he will not be happy with, but he is a spectacular guy. He is like a child,” Scaloni added.

‘Exhibition’ of rivalry

A new chapter in the celebrated rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi will unfurl on Thursday when they meet in an exhibition in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Ronaldo and Messi, who have dominated world football for the best part of 10 years, will face off on the pitch for the first time since December 2020 when Juventus beat Barcelona 3-0.

Ronaldo will lead Riyadh ST XI, a team made up of players from Al Hilal and Al Nassr, against Messi’s PSG in the exhibition contest where nothing is at stake.

Written with a Reuters report

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