SINGAPORE - To crown Lionel Messi the greatest player of all time would be a little premature, says 1978 World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles, but the coronation is not far off.
In the week the 22-year-old's four-goal haul against Arsenal in the Champions League had everyone from team mates, opponents and media searching for new superlatives, it was left to his fellow Argentine to put Messi's achievements into perspective.
"Messi's so good that comparisons with other players currently playing football are simply not valid," a sweating Ardiles told Reuters after a coaching clinic on Singapore's historic Padang.
"So in that sense, it is right that people are comparing him with the greats of the past, like (Diego) Maradona, Pele and (Johan) Cruyff.
"He's still only 22 and you have to maintain this level for many years to earn the right to be considered better than these giants."
Of these three, Ardiles believes the most apt comparison, at least in terms of technical ability, should be made between Messi another diminutive Argentine, Maradona.
"There are a lot of similarities between them," the 57-year-old Ardiles smiled.
"Both are small, left-footed and have a low centre of gravity. I think Messi is probably a touch quicker but I think Diego was a touch more skilful."
For Ardiles, a one-time room mate of Maradona, the comparisons end there - at least in terms of playing style.
"The big difference is their temperament," continued the man who won the FA Cup with Tottenham Hotspur in 1981 and was wearing the club's kit on Friday.
"Everything with Diego was a fight and he had so many problems off the pitch. Despite this, he was still able to cross the line and put these problems to one side and be the leader, the inspiration for his team mates and his country.
"Messi, on the other hand, is much more focused on his game and a much calmer man, obviously. He is very settled and is well protected by his family.
"You'll never see him in a nightclub, so in many ways, he is the perfect boy."
There was no suggestion from Ardiles that Messi might have achieved too much too soon, despite already having three La Liga titles to his name as well as the Ballon D'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year.
The former Yokohama Marinos coach Ardiles does believe, however, that disappointment and heartbreak can act as the spur to drive a player on to great things.
"Diego missed out on the 1978 World Cup in Argentina after being picked in the 25-man squad," recalled Ardiles.
"The coach had to let three players go and he was one of them. I was his friend and I know how hard that hit him. It hurt him, it really did. But I think it also made him fight harder in future.
"I don't think Messi will become complacent because he has a good family and support, but it will be interesting to see because he has achieved a lot already.
"It's an awesome thought to imagine what he could achieve in the future."comments