Jordi Cruyff believes it remains too early to label Lionel Messi the greatest player of all time and has also reserved judgement on Barcelona’s current crop being the best in the club’s history.
Cruyff, whose father Johan was a Barca legend as both a player and a coach and died aged 68 last week, took his first steps into professional football with the Camp Nou outfit before leaving for Manchester United in 1996.
But the former Netherlands international says Barcelona and Messi’s place in footballing history will only be finalised when the current period of success has come to an end.
“I like to answer these kinds of comparisons when they’re done,” the Maccabi Tel Aviv sporting director told Omnisport on March 18. “I think while a team is still active, it’s really hard to place them.
“You always hear stories about Messi. Is he the greatest ever? I think we’ll be able to answer that the day he puts his boots aside, sits on the couch, stops with the game. Then you can start to make comparisons.
“While a guy is still playing week in week out, I think it’s too early, even though it’s quite obvious he will be right up there.”
Cruyff continued: “I also think with teams, when you compare you have to compare with different times. 30 years ago in Spain you could only have three foreigners in the squad – or four and three on the pitch.
“Nowadays with the EU it’s all open and any European can play, so the rules have changed and it’s really hard to say ‘this one is better than that one’.
“It’s obvious that the Barcelona of today is one of the best in the history of football. But let’s wait until it’s done and make the real comparison.”
Barca host Real Madrid in El Clasico on Saturday, pitting Messi against his only real challenger for the title of the world’s greatest – Cristiano Ronaldo – once again.
And, while Cruyff concedes the players are unfortunate to be part of the same generation, his preference – owing in no small part to his Barca allegiance – would be to play alongside Messi.
“They are extremely unlucky to be a similar age and to have to compete with each other in the same generation,” he added.
“If one would have been 10 years after then you could perfectly well say that both players are the best in the world in their time.
“But they are together and, first of all, I have huge admiration for both. But if I had to choose, I would go with Messi because he plays for Barcelona and that’s a club that has a special place in my heart.”