Raymond Kopa says that while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are at the same level, the Barcelona attacker’s style of play places him marginally above his Real Madrid counterpart.
The pair of Ballon d’Or nominees are widely acknowledged as the two finest footballers of their generation and will go head to head in the first Clasico of the league campaign on Sunday.
However, in the eyes of the treble European Cup winner, the Argentine forward’s similar build and dribbling ability gives him a slender advantage over the former Manchester United ace.
“They are at the same level and I really like them both. Cristiano is a leader, but as Messi is a lot like me, maybe I have a little preference for him,” Kopa told AS.
“But don’t forget what their team-mates do to help them shine. Without Xavi or Iniesta, Messi would not have it so easy and the same applies to Cristiano with [Angel] Di Maria, [Mesut] Ozil and [Karim] Benzema.
“People say that Messi is lot like me, especially because of our [diminutive] size and the way we run with the ball. It’s an honour, but I cannot compete with him and all that he has won.”
Kopa also had his say on Madrid coach Jose Mourinho and claimed the trainer’s flamboyant personality played an instrumental role in the side’s Liga triumph over Barca last season.
“Many people like to criticise you, but I like it,” he continued. “It can be tough as a coach, but [Mourinho] knows how to carry a team to victory.
“We must accept his ways because, with it, Madrid managed to win La Liga over a team as strong as Barca. I think Madrid need a coach like him, with character.”
The 80-year-old then compared the present Blancos squad to the one that he formed part of between 1956 and 1959, commenting on the significance of their successes on the continent and Ronaldo’s alleged unhappiness earlier this term.
“It is difficult to compare,” he admitted. “My Madrid was one of the best teams in history, and so is this one, but an entity capable of winning three European Cups in a row marked a legacy.
“In my day, we did not show our feelings so much, but [Cristiano’s] a great player with great power to win a match. I see the weaker team than last year, though.
“They had so much ambition to beat Barca and left their skins on the field.”
Kopa could call on likes of Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas as colleagues of his during his glittered spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, but turned down the chance to double his salary in order to return to his native France three years later.
Yet, he explained: “It was a dream to play for such a big club, where I won three European Cups, two league titles and and lost just one game in three seasons [against Atletico Madrid].
“I also played with greats like [Alfredo] Di Stefano, [Ferenc] Puskas and [Paco] Gento.
“Many ask me [why I left] and only a few people understood my reasoning. The club offered me the chance to play for two more years and earn double my salary, but I refused because I wanted to launch a sports brand.
“It was a way to secure my future after football.”
Nevertheless, despite Madrid trailing eight points behind Barca in the Primera Division standings, Kopa has every confidence that they will be able to minimise the deficit and kick-start their title defence.
“Eight points are many and, even after winning the Clasico, it will be difficult [to wipe out],” he noted. “But yes, they are great favourites. The players are smart, talented and highly motivated enough.
“I also am aware of Barcelona and I really like Iniesta, who I believe deserves to win more individual awards. However, I’d prefer to see Madrid win. They are my team.”