“A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal,” Messi wrote in a message on Instagram, accompanied by two images of himself with the late football legend. 

“I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I wanted to take the opportunity to send my condolences to all his family and friends. RIP.”

Such is his own prodigious talent, Messi has been compared with Maradona ever since he burst onto the scene as a teenager.

Messi was seen as the heir apparent to Maradona’s crown as the nation’s footballing king – a label he has often struggled to live up to on the international stage. 

READ MORE: ‘We’ll miss you forever’: Argentina announces 3 days of national mourning after Diego Maradona dies aged 60

Much has been written of the pair’s relationship down the years, as well the pressures on Messi to lead his country to World Cup glory just as Maradona did in such spellbinding fashion in Mexico in 1986.

However, Messi has always tried to play down any comparisons, famously once saying“Even if I played for a million years, I’d never come close to Maradona. Not that I’d want to anyway. He’s the greatest there’s ever been.”   

Messi followed Maradona’s footsteps in heading to Barcelona from his homeland, becoming an icon in his own right and winning six Ballon d’Or crowns with the Catalans. 

Maradona and Messi enjoyed a player-coach relationship when the former took charge of the Argentina national team at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, although the campaign ended in disappointment as they were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage.

More recently, Maradona was seen giving avid support to Messi and Argentina at the World Cup in Russia in 2018. 

Messi was among the millions to pay tribute to the late icon. 

Fellow generational great Cristiano Ronaldo hailed Maradona’s legacy, while Pele – who is inevitably mentioned in conversations with Maradona on the topic of football’s greatest ever player – said he looked forward to “kicking a ball together up in the sky” with his friend.

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