Messi cemented his status among football's all-time greats during his 17-year stay at Barcelona, where he won multiple La Liga and Champions League crowns while also becoming the club's record goalscorer.
The diminutive forward was forced to leave at the end of his contract last summer amid the Blaugrana's well-documented financial crisis, and he was then snapped up by PSG on a free transfer, but has not been able to live up to his usual standards in his first year at Parc des Princes.
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Messi on the same level as Maradona?
Messi has been overshadowed by Kylian Mbappe throughout the 2021-22 campaign as he has struggled for consistency in the final third of the pitch, with some PSG fans even singling out the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner for boos and jeers after their Champions League round of 16 defeat to Real Madrid.
With the Ligue 1 title already secured, Messi drew another blank during a 3-3 draw at Strasbourg on Friday, but Pochettino thinks he has been unfairly judged after a turbulent 12 months.
The PSG boss has also compared the 34-year-old to the late Argentine icon Maradona, who inspired his country to World Cup glory in 1986.
"We’re not talking about an ordinary player, Messi is on the same level as Diego Maradona," Pochettino has told RMC Sport.
"It is clear that his move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain was a big change, in which an adaptation process was necessary. Certain circumstances didn’t allow him to feel as comfortable as he did at Barcelona where he’d spent 20 years. Where he had been the standard-bearer of the club.
"To judge Messi in this way is unfair. I have no doubts about his quality… Next season will be a completely different season for him.
"This has been a year of learning, and not only at the professional level in coming to Paris, in a new league and with new team-mates, but also at the level of family. This must be taken into account. It’s a major upheaval that can affect a player."
Messi's underwhelming first year at PSG
Messi missed the first few games of the 2021-22 season as he sought to build his fitness back up following Argentina's 2021 Copa America triumph and took time to find his feet when eventually introduced into Pochettino's line-up.
The former Barca captain has appeared in a total of 31 games in all competitions for PSG to date, but has only managed to find the net nine times.
Messi has, however, still proven to be a creative master in a slightly deeper role, as he has managed to provide 13 assists for his team-mates, and could yet improve his tallies in the club's final three games of the season against Troyes, Montpellier and Metz.
Is Lionel Messi as good as Diego Maradona? Will he prove doubters wrong? Let us know what you think in the comments! 👇