Some funny stuff around the Messi x Maradona comparison here, and bringing Pelé to the table.
I am from a generation that didn´t see Pelé play live (except for a friendly when he was already retired). But most of the people around me who were 5-10 years older or more had huge ammount of accounts of his play.
Even though there is shamefully so little quality video footage of him playing, you can understand easily by looking at what´s available the things he was up to. Pelé Eterno (Pelé Eternal) is a documentary that has a reasonable recolletction of plays and some of them are available on youtube). It was produced after Maradona´s career, by the way, and there are some Argentinean former players who are candid about who was the best ever to grace the game.
Then I here this nonsense about some issues like "football was not violent or physical" - bull**** - Pelé was hunted down every game, in some this was brutal - like Portugal in 66, very well recorded.
Or that Pelé didn´t play in Europe. This has to be one of the funniest to me. European people born in the 70´s up and exposed to football from mid-80´s up tend to believe blindly that South American Club football was not a legitimate ground for greatness up until the middle of the 80´s, when the European market started to become the norm for the best players of South America. This has to be one of the most bizarre displays of ignorance available while discussing football. Pelé played tournaments against the best teams in Brazil, which, by that time - late 50´s and 60´s, had as most very good players as any European powerhouse, if not more.
Then there is this utter nonsense that he was surrounded by geniuses in Santos. Although a few of them could be said as superstars, Santos had 2 starters in the Brazilian National team in 58, not quite a dominant number, less than Vasco and Botafogo (3 each) . Pelé did make very good players seem like geniuses, like Coutinho, for example - who wasn´t a Brazil starter in any World Cup, as he drew attention opening play for him and assisted him on a regular basis. This is what geniuses do.
Then there is this discussion of "only 2 Libertadores and only 2 World Club Championships". The fact is that after they won two in a row - one against Boca in Bombonera with Pelé destroying the Argentineans - Santos lost a fiery Libertadores match against Peñarol in 1964 and decided instead of facing the enormous violence for no money on throphies they had won, to prioritize on exhibitions around the world. I´m not sure this was the right move, but I can see the money flowing in, and still, Pelé managed 4 titles Maradona never would have while he was 23 years old.
By the way, Santos, although already a very good team by Sao Paulo standards, was the 4th most important there by the end of the 50´s, and Pelé transformed the nucleous of the 57 team into an almost unbeatable machine in a nation that had Botafogo, Palmeiras, Vasco, Cruzeiro (60´s on) and many amazing teams and players. So I kind of wander why people keep talking of Maradona on a continental level if he never won a Champions Cup neither a Libertadores.
There are some other arguments which call for the difficulties of the current play, such as lack of space, excessive physical game. For Pelé this wouldn´t be trouble since he was a very athletic guy who could run 100 meters in less than 11 seconds, had amazing jumping abilities and was very strong. May I remind you that they didn´t have synthetic leather balls by that time, nor ways to protect your ankle like we have today, or even reasonable shoes to play with (actually they had iron pieces in some of those shoes), so I kind of find funny what people who obviously never had to kick an original leather ball with a rubber inside (or think about it when it rained) have to say about how difficult it is to play nowadays.
About Maradona, I´ve seen him play a lot. And I saw him playing very well, outstandingly, but, to be fair, I saw him struggle a lot as well. In 1982, his World Cup was terrible (he was 21 I know, but that was a fact). Then I went to see Boca play Flamengo in 1982 and again he wasn´t anything close to a factor. Then in 1989, while still at his peak, he did have some great moments in Copa America but against Brazil was a no-factor again.
Maradona´s World Cup of 86 was something really special from the quarters on, but hardly Valdano, Burruchaga, Batista, Ruggeri were a bunch of bad players unreliable for Argentina traditions.
And in Napoli, I kind of question some of the made up facts. Careca was one of the top forwards in the world at the time they played together. Alemao was a very good defensive midfielder. In the first version of the team, Ferrara, Bagni, Di Napoli and Giordano were all National Team members, and Carnevale would later come to be.
Just two seasons before that Verona won with a reasonably similar team in the sense that it had Briegel, Elkjaer and some of Italian players who played a decent number of international matches in Galderisi, Fana and Di Gennaro.
I am not even a fan of Pelé´s actions of the field, on the contrary.
But this idea that Maradona is better that usually young people (and, when not from Argentina, usually from Europe, which kind of explains a bit) have is utter nonsensical.
As I mentioned before, due to consistency, I prefer Messi to Maradona, although I´ve seen Maradona doing some spectacular plays that I haven´t seen Messi do, and I reckon him as a more influential leader on the pitch.
But that is me. And of course, Messi is still away from Pelé, as fantastic as he is, by far the best player of his generation.