Who is the GOAT of Soccer: Messi, Maradona, Ronaldo?

Throughout soccer history, there has always been a raging debate about one big question: “Who is the greatest player of all time?”. Choosing an answer can be very tough as there are a few potential options, but there is only one man I would choose as the GOAT. 

Diego Maradona is the GOAT of soccer. He dominated the game for years at the highest level of soccer, won multiple trophies, including the world cup in 1986, and was one of the most skillful players ever to play the game. He was also exceptional with the ball at his feet. 

There are multiple players you could choose between when it comes to deciding who was the best. For example, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or even Pele would all be in the running. But let me explain to you why I believe Maradona is the GOAT and see if you agree by the end!

Let’s start by looking at the career of Maradona.

The goat of soccer

Maradona’s Early Career

A 15-year-old Maradona became the youngest player to ever play for the Argentina Primera Division. He still holds that record to this very day. 

He would play for the Argentinos Juniors team and scored his debut goal only two weeks after turning 16.

In a spell of 5 seasons, Maradona would go on to score 116 goals in 166 appearances. 

Despite his incredibly young age, he would develop season upon season.

His last two seasons were his most impressive.

In his second last year at Argentinos Junior, he scored 26 goals in 26 appearances. In his last season, he scored 43 goals in 45 appearances. 

Maradona then moved to Boca Juniors in 1981, where he scored 28 goals in 41 appearances. An outstanding record for a first season at the age of only 21. 

Maradona led the club to the league title that year. Winning this trophy was his first piece of silverware. 

If at this point you’re thinking, “this is the Argentinian league. It’s not that competitive, and, therefore, it’s easy to get those types of numbers,” you may be right.

But what Maradona, Ronaldo, and Messi all have over Pele is that they all played in Europe, where the most competitive teams in the world play.

On the other hand, Pele only stayed in the Brazilian league, which definitely wasn’t the best.

Maradona at Barcelona

Maradona made the switch to none other than FC Barcelona, where he became the most expensive transfer in the world for €3m, which was a lot of money for a soccer player back in the early 80s. 

Maradona Barcelona Jersey
Maradona Barcelona Jersey

Maradona had a great run with Barcelona, not a sensational one but still a great one. 

In 1983, in his first season with Barcelona, he scored 23 goals in 35 games and won the Copa Del Rey. 

He was also the first out of the only three Barcelona players to ever be applauded by Real Madrid during an El Clasico. The other two players to be applauded were Andres Iniesta and Ronaldinho. 

Unfortunately, that year, Maradona got sick, and that cut his season short. So, in the end, his tenure at Barcelona was relatively brief. 

In his second and last season at Barça, he would score 15 goals in 23 games. They would also go on to be the winners of the European Cup. 

Maradona won two trophies with Barcelona and scored 38 goals in 58 games, which is a successful return.

However, Barcelona essentially forced Maradona out of the club after being involved in a huge free-for-all that broke out, injuring 60 people during a game against Athletic Bilbao. 

Maradona at Napoli

After Barcelona, Maradona took his skills to the Serie A in Italy.

Here he would play for the southern Italian team Napoli and become known as “the hero of Naples”.

When most people think about Maradona, they think of his time playing for Napoli. Here is where he became a superstar.

Prior to his arrival, no southern Italian team had ever won the Scudetto. Also, in the season before Maradona came to the club, Napoli finished just one point above the relegation zone.

Napoli’s recent history at the time of Maradona’s arrival only elevates what he achieved with the club. 

Maradona’s arrival would completely transform this club’s fortunes and take Napoli to new heights and the most successful era in the club’s history.  

Maradona brought them their very first Scudetto, and he instantly became a legend in the city.

Maradona playing for Napoli
Argentinian Diego Maradona in action for Napoli

Murals and paintings were found across buildings, and the people there treated him as if he was a god. 

During Maradona’s seven seasons with the Gli Azzurri, they would win:

  • 2 league titles,
  • 1 Coppa Italia,
  • 1 UEFA Cup,
  • and 1 Italian Super Cup.

They also finished up as league runners-up twice and finished as runners-up to the Coppa Italia once as well. 

Maradona ended as the top goal scorer in the league for only one season, the 87/88 season, when he scored 15 goals in 27 matches. 

He also became Napoli’s all-time leading goal scorer with 115 goals.

Marek Hamsik broke this record in 2017. However, Hamsik played for 12 seasons and needed twice as many appearances as Maradona to reach that total. 

On the international stage, Maradona took his performances for his country, Argentina, to another level.

Maradona International Achievements

His greatest international performances came in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. 

Unlike Pele, who arguably had a much better team around him, Maradona single-handedly carried his team to the final, where they triumphed and became world champions. 

He was the best player in the entire tournament by a long shot.

Maradona Argentina Jersey
Maradona Argentina Jersey

He played every minute of every game and scored five goals, and provided five assists throughout the tournament. 

His most crucial goals came in the tournament’s final stages, scoring critical goals in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

He also assisted the winning goal in the World Cup final, sliding through Burruchaga in the 86th minute to win the game. 

In the following World Cup in 1990, he also led Argentina to the final. Unfortunately, they lost thanks to a late penalty scored by Brehme.

However, there was always a bit of controversy wherever he went, and there was no shortage of it in this World Cup. 

Some argue that Argentina would never have beaten England if it wasn’t for the “Hand of God” goal that he scored, which was definitely a handball. 

In the same game, it was clear that Maradona was head and shoulders above the rest of his opponents.

In this game, he scored the goal that was later voted the goal of the century, which further showcases his genius. 

Other Player’s Opinion of Maradona

According to Pele himself, Maradona was a much better player than Messi, and Pele’s opinion on this matter is worth taking into account.

Not only does Pele know what it takes to be one of the best soccer players ever to play the game, but he has also been around long enough to see, close-up, how both Maradona and Messi play.


Although other great players may have an opinion about this, few have been around long enough to see them all play.

We should definitely take Pele’s observations into account. 

Pele says that Maradona was superior for several reasons, one of them being that Messi is predominantly left-footed while Maradona was very good at using the ball with both feet.

Another reason was that Maradona was also skilled at heading the ball, something which Messi isn’t. 

What Makes Diego Maradona the GOAT of Soccer?

What made Maradona so exceptional was his dribbling, technical ability, and inventiveness.

He was one of the most skillful players ever to grace the game, and his touches and dribbles were almost non-comparable. 

As a testament to how good his dribbling was, it seemed that when he ran with the ball, it was almost as if the ball was glued to his feet.

Although he wasn’t a prolific goal scorer like Cristiano Ronaldo or Pele, he was still great.

He tested himself by moving to different leagues, embracing new experiences while also enjoying international glory. He was successful wherever he went.

These are realities that very few soccer players ever experience. 

All these reasons together are why I believe Maradona is the GOAT of soccer, and very few others have ever come close.

Find out what it takes to be a great number 10 like Maradona in my article – The Number 10 in Soccer – Why it is so significant.

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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