Pope Francis offers his take on ‘slipped’ Maradona and ‘gentleman’ Messi

Holy Father highlights professional careers of both legendary Argentine footballers – but adds he would add Brazilian icon Pelé to his top three.


Two days after Lionel Messi was awarded his eighth Ballon d’Or, on the same day as Diego Maradona’s birthday, their fellow countryman Pope Francis has spoken of their legendary footballing talents – as well as their off-pitch behaviour.

In an interview with the RAI1 news programme in Italy, the Buenos Aires-born pontiff was given a question that arouses passions across the football world. Who was the greatest? Messi or Maradona?

“I would add a third, Pelé,” responded the pontiff, putting the iconic Brazilian number 10, who won three World Cups, on the list of greatest-ever players.

“They are the three I have followed. All three are great, each with his own speciality. At the moment Messi is very good,” revealed Francis in an interview with Gian Marco Chiocci, director of the TG1 news programme.

The remarks were published 48 hours after Messi was crowned with his eighth Ballon d’Or, the prestigious award given by France Football magazine.

The Argentine, the only player to have won the award that many times, remembered Maradona in his speech, as the star would have turned 63 on the same day.

Pope Francis wandered into the late star’s life as he pondered on their public and private personas.

“Maradona as a man failed, poor thing, he slipped, the people around him didn’t help him. He came to see me the first year [I was pontiff],” remembered Francis.

“It [his life] ended badly. It’s funny, many sportsmen end badly, even in boxing. It’s curious,” he said.

Moving onto the Rosario-born superstar who now captains the national team, the Pope said that “Messi is very correct, he is a gentleman.”

In addition, he recalled the day he met Pelé, also highlighting his warm personality.

“Among these three, the greatest gentleman is Pelé. He is a man with a very big heart. I spoke to him, I met him on a plane in Buenos Aires, and he is a man of great humanity,” he said.

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