Former Barcelona and Ajax star Koeman: Verstappen is like Messi

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Ronald Koeman knows what it takes to become a successful athlete, having been one of the best, played with one the best and coached some of the best. Now he has paid one of the highest compliments possible to Max Verstappen, by likening his compatriot to Lionel Messi.

The three-time Formula 1 world champion and FIFA World Cup winner have both enjoyed incredible amounts of dominance over rivals in their career, as Verstappen has won 33 of the 41 races since the start of 2022 whilst Messi has scored 726 club goals in 898 games in his career.

Both are also hauling in the accolades, as the Verstappen won his third straight F1 drivers’ championship at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, whilst Messi has won 42 trophies since his debut in 2004/05.

“I see similarities [between Verstappen] with Lionel Messi,” Koeman told Formule1.nl. “The will to win, at all costs. Being able to be tough, being on top when something is not settled. You can see that with Max, in his behavior, in his look, by the venom in his eyes, his determination.

“For example, when he comes in for new tyres in a race. He doesn’t ask, he reports it. He takes responsibility. Messi has that too, who I experienced for a year and a half at Barcelona and, another similarity, they are pure enthusiasts.”

Koeman compares Verstappen to himself

Koeman was part of a talented late 1980s to 1990s Netherlands team that managed to win the UEFA European Championships and reached the World Cup twice, with him as captain.

He was also a feared goal-scorer despite playing as a defender by to bag 238 goals in 685 games, that’s a rate as good as many strikers manage. His contributions helped his clubs win 18 trophies across his 17-year career.

“Max is always there at the moment, supreme, and that is a special quality. I had that myself as a soccer player,” Koeman said. “The more important, the more exciting and the more difficult it became, the better I felt. I just got a kick out of showing it then. To prove who you are and how good you are.

“Max doesn’t get confused about anything either. He’s focused and confident like at Zandvoort, 300,000 Dutch people come to the track for him. He delivers when he has to, and those are the very best, the Messis, the Ronaldos and the Verstappens of this world.”

Max Verstappen celebrates with his Red Bull team after winning the 2023 Brazilian GP | Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Koeman: Keep going for as long as you can

Verstappen is contracted to stay at Red Bull until 2028 after signing an extension in 2021. However, he often speaks about retiring from the sport, partially thanks to an expanding calendar and tampering of the structure.

The 26-year-old also feels as though he will have little joy in winning easily each week compared to what he can find elsewhere in life.

“If I look at myself: I once stopped at Barcelona and then played two more seasons at Feyenoord,” Koeman continued. “Now I say that I should never have left Barcelona then.

“But at that moment I had a different feeling and thought I was ready for something else. In our case, that was returning to the Netherlands. But now we live in Barcelona again, because we don’t like to be anywhere better than there.”

“What I’m saying is that you should always follow your gut. Once Max no longer feels the challenge or has the passion needed to be successful, he has to do something else. But personally, I would say as long as you can still do it, you have to keep going. You can only stop once.”

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