Maradona at 60: Legend Diego and Lionel Messi are best we've seen, says Barcelona boss Koeman

By John Skilbeck 30 October 2020 77
Maradona at 60: Legend Diego and Lionel Messi are best we've seen, says Barcelona boss Koeman

Ronald Koeman had his eye on the past, present and future of Barcelona as he lauded Diego Maradona but said it was wrong to draw comparisons with modern-day great Lionel Messi.

The Dutchman is also focused on players who will enrich Barcelona for a new generation, offering advice to Ansu Fati and Pedri as the teenage duo make their mark at Camp Nou.

Maradona turned 60 on Friday and his overall impact on Barcelona during an often-chaotic two-year spell from 1982 to 1984 was such that he is fondly remembered.

Barcelona sent birthday greetings to the player who also scaled great heights with Napoli and Argentina and has now seemingly settled into coaching with Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata in his home country.

Maradona was widely considered the greatest player of his generation, while debate persists over which of Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo merits that mantle in this era.

As head coach at Barcelona, Koeman predictably sides with Messi, but he says the club's all-time record scorer and Maradona played in such different times it is difficult to judge who has been the greater.

When asked about Maradona, Koeman said: "In his time he was the best player. Today, for me, Messi is the best player."

Koeman and Maradona were peers, both playing at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.

"You cannot compare the football of our time with the football of today," Koeman said. "Today it is more physical and more intense, it has changed a lot."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 Happy birthday, Maradona!  ¡Felices , Diego!  Per molts anys, Maradona!

A post shared by FC Barcelona (@fcbarcelona) on

Koeman's legacy as coach at Camp Nou may be in priming the likes of teenagers Fati and Pedri for long and successful careers with Barcelona.

Fati turns 18 on Saturday, while 17-year-old Pedri has his birthday in November.

Both have the backing of Koeman, who has not shied away from using them in Barcelona's biggest games recently.

He started with the duo in El Clasico last weekend, with Fati scoring Barcelona's goal in a 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid. Pedri was then in the XI for the Champions League clash with Juventus on Wednesday, and Fati came on midway through the second half as the Blaugrana scored a morale-boosting 2-0 victory.

With four goals in his opening five LaLiga games this season, Fati is outshining even Messi, who has netted just once.

The Spain international has taken the two goalscoring opportunities defined by Opta as big chances for a 100 per cent record – a drastic early improvement on last season's 14.3 per cent in that regard.

His dribbling success is also nudging in the right direction, from 43.1 per cent in 2019-20 to 47.4 this term.

Pedri has only made two starts in LaLiga so far, but an 85.7 per cent passing accuracy rate is something for the former Las Palmas midfielder to build on, at a club where Sergio Busquets and former midfield lynchpin Xavi have in seasons gone by topped the 90 per cent mark.

Koeman says both can improve different aspects of their game, adding: "I tell everyone to enjoy the moment. It is not normal for two 17-year-old boys to play at this level.

"The advice to them is to be humble and work hard because a career is very long. These players that I have seen in these two, three months are very good people, they know what they have to do and they are training to improve.

"We are here to help them improve and enjoy their game and to be able to be with people like Messi, Busquets and other players."

Koeman and Fati have spoken this week about the forward's concentration, with the coach believing that to be a slight weakness in his game, explaining: "He is a great talent and we have to help him improve things. You have to be prepared every day to improve."

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John Skilbeck

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