Diego Maradona has reignited the debate about the greatest player of all time as he claimed Barcelona star Lionel Messi could never match his achievements at Napoli.

Argentina legend Maradona said his compatriot Messi is “in decline” following Barcelona’s 1-1 Champions League draw against his former club in Naples on Tuesday.

However, he said he wished Napoli “could have a Messi” to help replicate the club’s greatest ever era when he played for them during the 1980s.

Maradona and Messi are two of the players most talked about as the greatest of all time, along with the likes of Pele, Johan Cruyff and Cristiano Ronaldo .

While Messi has enjoyed a glittering career at Barcelona, Maradona similarly inspired Napoli to the most successful period in the Serie A club’s history.

Lionel Messi in action against Diego Maradona’s former club Napoli on Tuesday

Although more famous worldwide for his starring role in Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph, Maradona is an icon in Naples, having led Napoli to the club’s only two Serie A titles during the 1986-7 and 1989-90 campaigns.

With speculation swirling around Messi’s future as he approaches the twilight of his career, Maradona was asked whether the 32-year-old could surpass his achievements were he to join Napoli.

“Messi arrived at San Paolo in decline,” said Maradona in quotes reported by Spanish publication AS , talking about his compatriot’s form going into Tuesday’s Champions League clash.

“Messi has not lived the life I have. Leo could play extraordinarily in Naples, but he would not be able to do what I did. Let’s be clear about that.”

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Maradona inspired Napoli to the most successful period in the club’s history

Napoli’s first championship triumph sparked wild celebrations in the streets of Naples, while murals of Maradona were painted on the city’s ancient buildings.

The club were also Serie A runners up twice during Maradona’s spell at the club, as well as winning the Coppa Italia in 1987, the UEFA Cup in 1989 and the Italian Supercup in 1990.

Although he played from an advanced midfield position, the diminutive star was the club’s top scorer with 115 goals until his record was broken by Marek Hamsik in 2017.

By comparison, Messi counts 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League triumphs among his career honours – although he has had the benefit of playing in one of the all-time great teams at Camp Nou.

This mural in Naples is a sign of Maradona’s lasting legacy in the Italian city

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And while he was adamant Messi would not be able to better his own achievements in Naples, Maradona said he would love the Barca star to sign for his former club.

“I wish the Neapolitans could have a Messi, even though San Paolo is Diegoed, ” he said – again highlighting his legendary legacy.





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