Sao Paulo, November 14: Brazil legend Pele believes Lionel Messi is the most complete player on the planet and one of "two or three" on par with the greats of previous eras.
The former Santos forward and three-time World Cup winner named Barcelona captain Messi, Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar as the select few deserving to be discussed as the world's best.
Messi, 32, and Ronaldo, 34, have long dominated the game's most coveted individual awards but are reaching the latter stages of their highly decorated careers.
Selecao star Neymar became the most expensive player in history when he moved from Barca to PSG in 2017, but for Pele there is a clear standout among the trio.
"I think of Leo Messi," he told Gazzetta dello Sport when asked who he would most like to play alongside.
"He is a skilled player, gives assists, passes, scores, dribbles well. If we were in the team together, the opponents should worry about two players, not just one! Today, Messi is the most complete player."
I would like to offer my congratulations to you, Lionel Messi, on your 600th goal. What a way to score it. Fabulous. // Gostaria de oferecer meus parabéns a você, Lionel Messi, pelo seu gol número 600. E que maneira de atingir essa marca. Sensacional. @TeamMessi https://t.co/VH5u7U4d8H— Pelé (@Pele) May 2, 2019
However, when balancing the leading players of today compared to those of the past, he lamented a perceived lack of true stars.
"Once, you found two or three in every country with a great football culture," the 79-year-old said.
"Eusebio, Simoes, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Maradona, Garrincha, Didi. How many did I say? There were so many.
"Today we have two or three in all. Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, I would say Neymar, who in Brazil has not yet managed to become a great figure."
That would change if Neymar inspired the country to glory at the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which will mark two decades since the South American nation's most recent triumph.
"I hope that at the next World Cup he is in good physical condition," Pele said.
"People criticise him, I even did it a few times, but we forget that he is a product of ours, of Santos. We always want the best for him. I talk about him often with his father.
"Technically, he is an excellent player."