PARIS, France (AP) — Pele thinks Lionel Messi still needs to improve at international level before he can be considered the greatest football player of all time, and needs to score more goals to come close to matching the Brazilian great.
The 24-year-old Messi has already won the Ballon d'Or as the world's best player for three straight years. But in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde published yesterday, the 71-year-old Pele says the Argentina star still has more to prove.
"When Messi's scored 1,283 goals like me, when he's won three World Cups, we'll talk about it," Pele told Le Monde. "Football changes. Records are there to be broken, but it will be hard to break mine.
"People always ask me: 'When is the new Pele going to be born?' Never. My father and mother have closed the factory."
Although many observers consider Pele or Diego Maradona to be the greatest ever, Messi's form for Barcelona has him being mentioned in the same group.
Messi scored 55 goals in 2011 for Barcelona, and already has more than 200 for the club in total. He is the club's leading scorer in the European Cup and scored in the 2009 and 2011 finals when Barca beat Manchester United.
"I like Messi a lot, he's a great player," Pele replied when asked who is his favourite current player is. "Technically, we're practically at the same level."
But Pele was also quick to point out that Messi has not shone for Argentina in big tournaments.
Surprisingly for a player of Messi's ability, he failed to score in both the 2010 World Cup and Copa America last year, and has a modest tally of 19 goals in 67 international matches.
"He's a great player for Barcelona, but when he plays for Argentina he doesn't have the same success," Pele said.
Pele also feels he may have had more natural ability than Messi.
"No one knew which foot I was going to shoot with, I was two-footed. I also scored a lot of goals with my head," Pele said.
However, Pele knows that the debate over who is the world's greatest ever player will always divide opinion.
"Some people will say Beethoven couldn't play the piano, others will say Michelangelo couldn't paint and that Pele couldn't play football," he said. "But we all received a gift from God."