​Ruud Gullit has claimed that Diego Maradona will always be viewed as a better player than current Argentina superstar Lionel Messi due to the latter's protection from referees.

The Netherlands legend and ex-AC Milan star told ​La Repubblica that the only way Maradona could be stopped was if players - himself included - at the time took him out with a vicious challenge, and stated that Messi had it easy in comparison due to his protection from today's match officials.

Gullit said: “We all wondered how to stop Maradona. For me he was and is the greatest. A lot of people prefer Pele, but I only saw Pele on TV, while I played with Maradona.

Argentina's coach Diego Maradona (L) loo

“If you talk to me about [Lionel] Messi and [Cristiano] Ronaldo I’ll answer that they can dribble. Maradona couldn’t, he had jump to beat his opponent, otherwise they’d have broken his leg. In fact Andoni Goikoetxea, the butcher of Bilbao, broke his ankle.

“Back then the attackers weren’t protected by the rules, the referee only blew for a foul if people like me were demolished.

“Fortunately, it’s different today. Messi and Ronaldo have teams which work for them, they're the wonderful final piece in the assembly line. When I see Messi, I feel like he's a great player, but he's very protected. He is protected by the referees, by the media, by the regulation... Messi is limited to dribbling.

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"Maradona was alone, he was prey for his opponents. If you could knock him down it was a badge of honour."

Messi recently revealed in a separate interview that Argentina and Napoli legend Maradona was among his two major influences growing up as a would-be footballer.

The 56-year-old, who led Napoli to two Serie A titles in the 1980s, and who won the 1986 World Cup with his country of birth, is set to become the Naples' club newest amabassador once his finances are in order back in Argentina.

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