Legendary goalscorer Pele has said that Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are the best three players in the world, but picked Barcelona icon Messi as his choice of ideal strike partner.
Lamenting what he sees as a reduced number of greats around the world, Brazil’s all-time top scorer suggested only three of the current generation could match the fabled likes of Eusébio, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Diego Maradona and Garrincha.
Pele named Messi as the “most complete player” and said he had spoken to Neymar’s father, who advises the Paris Saint-Germain striker, about the mercurial forward’s progress.
Praising Messi for his skill and ability to pass, dribble and produce goals and assists, Pele said: “If we were in a team together, the opponents would have to worry about two players, not just one.
“Once, you found two or three in every country with a great football culture. There were so many. Today we have two or three in total.”
In 2017, Pele suggested that Cristiano Ronaldo had overtaken Messi as the best player in Europe – although he qualified his opinion by explaining that the balance had only changed because of Messi’s injuries, adding that the diminutive Argentinean had been the best player on the continent for the previous five seasons.
The chances of Pele’s triumvirate of pretenders matching his record of three World Cup wins are non-existent. All three have failed to lift the trophy in their careers to date, as the 79-year-old did in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
At 27, a renaissance for Brazil would give Neymar the best chance of coming close to Pele’s haul on the international stage, although his return to form for his club, scoring four goals in five Ligue 1 matches, has been stalled by injuries and suspensions this season.
“I hope that at the next World Cup he is in good physical condition,” Pele admitted, looking ahead to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and observing that Neymar has “not yet managed” to become “a great figure” in his homeland.
“People criticise him. Even I did it a few times but we forget that he is a product of ours, of the nursery of Santos.
“We always want the best for him. I talk about it often with his father. Technically he is an excellent player.”