The image of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar joking as they walk out onto any field is a familiar one. They do it every week, before putting on a show few fans forget, and many opponents wish they could. This week, Barcelona dispatched Celtic with a 7-0 victory. Most teams would have made headlines with a score-line like that. We’ve almost become accustomed to seeing Barcelona do this. They make headlines when they don’t win.
Messi is yet to turn 30 and already holds a firm place in the argument for the greatest ever player. In Suarez’ 92 games at Barca, he has been involved in 120 goals. Neymar is the talisman of Brazilian football and is barely 24. Ex-Barca player, Eric Abidal, maintains; “If I had to play against Messi, Suarez and Neymar, I would ask the coach to leave me on the bench.” Modern football has produced some incredible combinations at the front, but are these three the greatest to ever play the game?
The Hungary national team in the 50s, known as the “Golden team” recorded 42 wins, 7 draws and a single defeat in 6 years. This feat remains unmatched at international level. They were fronted by Puskas, Hidegkuti and Kocsis. You might not have heard of them all, bar Puskas, but these three players made up the attack of essentially one of the most dominant teams of all time. They popularised and perfected “Total Football” which would inspire the “Tiki-taka” style that Barcelona use now. They went 73 consecutive games scoring at least a goal and were undefeated for four of the 6 golden years. Puskas and Kocsis collaboratively scored 159 goals and, to this day, that team still holds the record for the highest goal differential in a single World Cup tournament, +17.
The “Magic trio” at Juventus, playing in the 60s spent two decades in total dominance of the Italian league. John Charles, recognised as Juve’s greatest ever foreign player, along with Siveri and Boniperti made up the attacking line. This team was the first Italian club to win 10 championships in 1961 and both Siveri and Boniperti are in Serie A’s top 5 goal-scorers. Boniperti’s retired as top goal-scorer at Juve with 182 goals; a record that stood for 45 years.
Considered the greatest international team of all time, Brazil’s World Cup winning side in 1970 might come closest to equalling the incredible volume of goals that Messi and Co. have become known for. Jairzinho, Tostao and Pele played attacking football that is still regarded now as some of the best to have ever been played. Tostao scored 249 goals for his club, Cruzeiro. Jairzinho scored in every game the team played at the 1970 tournament and Pele had a role in 14 of the 19 goals they scored in the 1970 tournament. Pele, the scorer of approximately 1,000 goals in his career, is still regarded in many circles as the greatest player to ever play the game. His closest rival to the title? Lionel Messi.
There are others, of course. The “Holy Trinity” at Old Trafford, The Original Galacticos in Di Stefano-Puskas-Gente or the three R’s in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning side. There have been many, and there will be more. Whether any could eclipse the impact of Barcelona’s South Americans feels increasingly difficult to guarantee.
In the 2014-2015 season, MSN scored 120 goals between them, outscoring the entire Real Madrid side’s goal tally. They finished that season with a record +89 goal difference. The three have won everything there is to be won at Barcelona. The entire Barcelona team is tuned to enhance their greatest assets. Even their closest rivals struggle to keep up. Ronaldo, individually brilliant, could not replicate the same success with his teammates, Bale and Benzema. For years, media speculation centred on Ronaldo and Bale’s suspected lack of chemistry, even rivalry. The defining feature of the Barcelona front-line may well be the harmonious style they play with; the total unselfishness that produces the results nobody can beat.
Neymar said in his latest post-match interview that the three have found a synchronicity to what they do; “We are at a place now where we know how each other thinks.” They play with that same positivity and confidence in one another that we saw in all the other great trio’s in football. They may never be another three players who can play in quite the same way. Brendan Rodgers was remarkably candid despite being the manager of a team just beaten 7-0. He cut no corners in his answer; “We have nothing to be embarrassed about…They have done this to better teams than us.” His thinly-veiled lack of surprise, resignation to a side with so much more than his own. We’ve seen it all before with Barcelona’s opponents. For now, all many of us can do is enjoy them, at least until somebody works out how to beat them.