Brazil legend Zico has made a sensational claim, according to him Lionel Messi is on the brink of becoming the greatest footballer of all-time as Arsenal prepare with all they have to face the Barcelona superstar.
Messi and his teammates head to the Emirates Stadium to challenge the Gunners in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, with his attacking colleagues Luis Suarez and Neymar also certain to be a major threat in London.
Now former Brazil playmaker Zico thinks Messi as accomplished a player as there has ever been.
“He is starting to surpass the level of Pele, Garrincha, [Johan] Cruyff, [Franz] Beckenbauer and [Diego] Maradona,” Zico told Barca TV.
The Argentine maestro recently emerged as the first player to reach 300 league goals milestone in Spain and at the age of 28 he could have many years left in the game.
He has always delivered against Arsenal in the past, most notably when scoring four at the Nou Camp against Arsene Wenger’s boys in 2010.
With Suarez and Neymar now providing more threat, Zico believes the worst for Arsenal awaits over the two legs.
“The trident is fantastic because they play as a team and suit each other perfectly,” Zico said, according to Barcelona’s website.
“Barca are favourites both in London and at Camp Nou.”
The first time Messi could have featured against Arsenal was on May 17, 2006, in the famous Champions League final which Barcelona managed to win 2-1. However, he did not start, having been injured earlier on, and Rijkaard didn’t want to take risk with him.
In 2009-10, with Guardiola at the dugout, he played, in a 2-2 draw in London – Ibrahimovic scored both goals. In the return leg, Messi scored stunning four goals. 21, 37, 42 and 88 were the minutes he found the net, following Bendtner’s opener.
In 2010-11, Barcelona suffered a 2-1 loss in the quarter-finals to Arsenal in London, with Messi setting up David Villa for their goal. But, back in Spain, the story was completely different. He scored a brace (45+3, 71), and Barcelona won 3-1.
This current Barcelona attacking force has become something else. Last season Messi, Suarez and Neymar scored 145 goals between them. This season they have already raced to a stunning 91. Very few expect Arsenal to neutralise them. Indeed, if you move on with £100 on Barcelonato score at the Emirates on Tuesday night, you would win only manage to win £11 off the bookies if they succeeded.
Meanwhile, despite Zico’s strong admiration for Messi, he has claimed next year the football world could see his Barcelona teammate clinch the FIFA Ballon d’Or award.
He said: “It would not be surprising at all if Neymar was named the best player in the world.”