Article 49 — Baggio vs Messi
I don’t like making comparisons between players more so if they have played in different eras. I would much rather just enjoy and appreciate the talent there is on display.
However, I am not changing that for this post. This post has been influenced by a video I shared from YouTube yesterday on Facebook. The title of the video is Baggio. Better than Messi. Rare Footage. I am sharing the video below for your viewing pleasure.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone that regularly reads my articles or is my friend on Facebook that Roberto Baggio is my all-time favourite player, I absolutely love him.
Now to say that he is better than Messi, isn’t it taking it a bit too far? It’s genuinely hard to make a fair comparison between the two. They both play in the number 10 fantasista position and are of roughly similar height. While Baggio played centrally in his position, Messi could play anywhere across the front three.
Both players are great dribblers of the ball, great at free-kicks and assists. Baggio was a more regular corner kick taker than Messi is. In terms of finishing as a goal scorer, Messi beats Baggio in this matter. Baggio has scored 247 goals in his career between club and country while Messi has already scored 438 for his club alone. He has 70 goals for the Argentina national team. Messi has also surpassed Baggio in terms of career appearances. Messi has appeared 612 times in his career for club and country so far while Baggio appeared 546 times for club and country.
Statistically, it’s a no-contest. Including the goals and appearances statistics above, Messi has also won more as an individual and as part of a collective. Both players have won the Ballon d’Or award with Baggio winning the now-defunct FIFA World Player of the Year as well.
However, a comparison between players can never be as straightforward as that. There are always extenuating circumstances and more so when you compare players between different eras. Roberto Baggio retired at the end of the 2003–04 season while Lionel Messi made his debut in the Barcelona senior team a season after, in 2004–05.
Baggio was playing in an era where attacking players like himself didn’t get much protection from the referees. Opponents could get away with stronger, harder and more robust challenges. They could literally lunge two-footed into a challenge and not get carded for it. Baggio was also playing in a league that was notorious for it’s stingy and tight defences at a time when it was the best league in Europe.
Messi is playing in an era where players like him have received greater protection from the referees with many challenges from the 90s now outlawed. This has been a positive change for attacking players as it has allowed them to flourish. Messi is also playing in a league that has traditionally never been known for having the best defences. On that point, I am of the opinion as well that the quality of the defending has regressed in the last decade, making it easier for forwards to score.
Baggio has also been troubled with injuries all his career. His career nearly ended at the age of 18 when he shattered both his anterior cruciate ligaments and meniscus in his knee. He recovered to win the European and World Player of the Year awards, reaching the peak of his powers for Juventus and the Italian national team in the 1993–94 season. However, for the rest of his career after that, he was continuously troubled by injuries including more knee injuries which was part of the reason his number of appearances for club and country were curtailed.
The other reason for his limited performances was the lack of faith and disagreements with the different coaches he had. In terms of nature and personality, Baggio doesn’t come across as a hot-tempered maverick but he conflicted with some of the coaches he had over his tactical deployment and fitness. There were also coaches that didn’t have much faith in his ability or felt he didn’t fit their tactical system. In the case of Marcello Lippi, he conflicted over not wanting to rat on his team-mates.
Aside from suffering from growth hormone deficiency at the age of 10 years old, Messi has not suffered from many injuries for most of his career and not had any major injuries to contend with. Like Baggio, Messi is one of his generation’s best talent but unlike Baggio, he has always retained the faith of his coaches. He has not been as successful with the Argentina national team as he has been at club level for Barcelona, only winning the Olympics gold medal in 2008 but has still not lost the faith of any of Argentina’s national team managers. The managers have recognised the talent they have on their hand.
They are both great and special players that we should appreciate like many others before them and in their era. For all, he has achieved as an individual player and for his club, Messi has received a lot of worldwide praise and adulation. Personally, I feel he shouldn’t have won as many Ballon d’Ors because there were seasons when other players deserved it more but for some reason, he has won them and we cannot do anything about it. That doesn’t take away the fact that he is an undoubted special talent who deserves the praise and adulation.
Baggio is loved and remembered fondly by many Italians especially those that started watching football from before the early 90s. There was a strong clamour for him among the Italian public for him to be included in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. It worked in 1998 but sadly, failed in 2002 despite a miraculous recovery from yet another major knee injury. Even outside of Italy, he fascinated and mesmerised the attention of many who watched Italian football in the early 90s starting with his solo goal for Italy against Czechoslovakia in the 1990 World Cup. Add to that his trademark ponytail and the Divine Ponytail nickname for his Buddhist beliefs, he is truly an iconic footballer. A hero to many from lands far, far away from Italy.
Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti might have got more attention than him thanks to global advertisement campaigns, better Public Relations and outstanding club performances but neither could replicate the impact Baggio had for Italy at the World Cups he played in. He is currently joint-highest Italian goalscorer in the history of the World Cup. If only he wasn’t so troubled by injuries and had managers that showed faith in him the way they do now with Messi. We would never know what he would have gone on to achieve.
Lionel Messi will turn 32 in a couple of weeks. He will carry on scoring goals, assisting and dazzling the world. Who knows how long more he can play for because at the moment he shows no signs of a decline. He will surely go on to win some more with his club and as an individual but can he finally break the hoodoo and win a trophy for his country? He has still got time on his hand to achieve that elusive international or continental glory with Argentina.