The most popular sport in the world, football, The Beautiful Game of football has had some true heroes who have transcended the game itself and cemented their legacy in the minds of football fans forever (Hanagudu 2017). The players in football are judged on their talent, skill, consistency and what they bring to the table for their teams. Good footballers usually have 3-4 peak years where they become superstars of the game and stars to their team fans, but they fade away. Those who stay on top of the mountain against the test of time through hard work, perseverance, and natural talent become not only superstars for their teams but also become the pioneers of footballing legacy. Some footballers only perform well with a certain set of players, or with a certain manager or with a certain team but those who thrive under any condition they’re put under, who lead from the front and who are selfless on the field for any team and coach are the legends that are remembered in every conversation that is related to football. In this paper we are going to analyze the career of the two top players in football history side by side to determine who is the absolute greatest footballer that is still playing.
Whenever the question is asked who the best footballer in the world the answer is always leads to a fiery debate of statistics, playing styles and the careers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. A few other names such as Pele, Maradona and Johan Cruyff come up but are soon dismissed as they statistically are nowhere closer to the top two Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The fact is that Ronaldo and Messi are playing against the most competitive, brutal and technical defenders of football and the players (all attackers) didn’t have opponents way back then worthy of matching them. In the previous era of footballing greats there is hardly a mention of defenders because none had the skill and expertise required to be ranked highly and wouldn’t even make it into the list of greats in the modern-day game of football. Hence the attackers do not fulfil the requirements of being the best in the world after playing against subpar teams with below average defenders.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo today face the test of determined and destructive defenders who are even starting to get transferred for higher than attackers as their importance is only increasing. Virgil van Dijk who was sold to Liverpool F.C from Southampton F.C for a world record fee for a defender of 75 million pounds is a prime example of how much the backline players have improved and how important they are to the modern game.
Cristiano Ronaldo was born on the 5th of February in 1985 which puts him at the age of 33 years while Lionel Messi was born on 24th of June in 1987 putting him at 31 years old. Lionel Messi was enrolled to the club F.C Barcelona’s legendary youth academy “La Masia” at the age of 13. He stayed there and played in the youth teams and the lower division team till June 24th, 2005 he was handed his first contract as a senior team player/professional football player. He made his debut on 24th August at the age of 18 for Barcelona in the La Liga (Spanish league of football). Cristiano Ronaldo on the other hand started his football career at Sporting F.C at the age of 12 years when they signed him from an amateur team Andorinha. He subsequently broke into the first team at the age of 16 years. He was the first ever player to play for the clubs under senior team, the second team, and the senior teasm, all within a single season ("Cristiano Ronaldo" 2018). On 7th October 2002 he made his debut and scored two goals to lead his team to 3-0 victory. He was bought by Manchester United for twelve million pounds in the season of 2003 and was labelled as the most exciting teenage prospect in football by the footballing community. On his debut the team won 4-0 and it was hailed by Sir George Best a former Manchester United great as “undoubtedly the most exciting debut he had ever seen” (2018). Hence, we can see while both the players continued to strive for excellence in their full seasons the honor of the better debut goes hands down to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Moving with hard work, passion and utter dedication on the path to glory they quickly paved their way towards glory. Their journey from debutants to first team regulars and then to the best players all happened during the same time, and we now look at it to analyze it and compare it. While Lionel Messi was still at the youth academy Cristiano Ronaldo was already playing for Sporting F.C. in his first and only full season at sporting Ronaldo impressed with his skills, dribbling and composure. He scored 5 goals, 7 assists in 31 appearances as a substitute and full games. In the next season Ronaldo was transferred to Manchester United and scored 6 goals and racked up 7 assists. This was his gradual rise into the first team while side by side Messi had also just begun to play for Barcelona. Both their first seasons while the other was playing were average but they both showed unrivaled promise to become future superstars. Their first seasons compared as Ronaldo scored 9 goals and had 8 assists in 50 appearances while Messi scored 1 goals in 9 matches. They continued scoring and showing their mettle and in the next two seasons Ronaldo scored 35 goals and 23 assists while Messi had 25 goals and 6 assists. But in 2007-2008 season was where Ronaldo had a real breakthrough. He ended the season with 42 goals and 7 assists while Messi scored 16 and assisted 13. In this season Ronaldo earned the Ballon D’Or which was given to the best player in the world in that year. In the next season Messi proved his worth by winning the Ballon D’Or as well as outscoring Ronaldo who had been deemed as the best player.
Ronaldo’s First Ballon D’Or in 2008
Messi’s First Ballon D’Or in 2009
These two seasons had established them as the best in the world and they continued to dominate and the Ballon D’or never went to anyone else but them for the entire decade. The focus was shifted to both when Ronaldo transferred to Real Madrid as the most expensive player in the world in 2009 for the sum of 80 million pounds. What was special about this transfer was that Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona played in the La Liga and it would pit Messi and Ronaldo head to head against each other.
Goals: Ronaldo vs Messi in La Liga
Messi went on to win five Ballon D’Or’s in the following seasons (2009,2010,2011, 2012, 2015) and held the title till 2013 where Ronaldo reclaimed it won it again in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 which put his total also at five Ballon D’Or’s. They both were at the peak of their careers and they continued scoring at an astonishing rate. Both of their goals to games ratios never fell below 0.80 and Ronaldo even outdid Messi in most of the seasons by having a goal to games ratio of above 1.00 which means he scored more than one goal per match a feat no one till date has been able to match. They simply cannot be split because of how neck to neck and astounding their scoring records are.
With this burst of success and the rise of their talents to their full potential they also started carrying their teams to success singlehandedly and along the way they earnt very well-deserved trophies for their team and themselves. They have a very illustrious career and an even better trophy cabinet. Their careers and success are so mindbogglingly wonderful that no one even comes near to them in this comparison. Just for “record” they hold 82 personal and club records just between them and this doesn’t even include the trophies they have in their locker.
Cristiano Ronaldo holds these records
On the world stage
He has the most Ballon D’Or’s in the world (5) a record he shares with Lionel Messi.
He has the highest number of the world’s best football players of the year (5).
He has the most IFFHS awards for being the best goal scorer of the year.
He was the most expensive player on the planet from 2009-2013.
With Real Madrid and Manchester United he has the most Club World cups.
He also shares Pele’s record of being the highest scorer in a World cup or Intercontinental cup (7 goals). Messi and he share the most goals in a final (4)
He is the first and only footballer who has scored in every international tournament for consecutive 7 tournaments.
He also hit the mark of 40 goals in consecutive season and became the first player to do that.
He consecutively scored 50 or more goals for 6 seasons and broke all records previously made
While doing this he also became the first player to score 60 or more goals for 4 seasons in a row.
On the Continental stage he scored the most
Goals in a single players career at 405 goals
Goals in all UEFA competition matches at 158 goals
He became the first player to win 100 champion league matches
And had the most goals at 123, assist at 34, most goals in one season at 17 goals and most penalty goals at 15 goals from 18 attempts.
In the UEFA stage he’s scored the most goals in the history at 50 goals and the most qualifying goals at 29. With these feats he also got the best player award 4 times the highest tally.
With these he also has many other records to his name for his clubs that he has played at.
Lionel Messi hold these records to his name
He has the most Ballon D’Or’s in the world (5) a record he shares with Ronaldo.
He scored 91 times in one seasons for club and country making it the most ever by a player in a season
He also was top goals scorer and top longest streak of scoring goals. He also was the only player to win more than one club world cup ball in the matches he played.
He is the only player to rival Cristiano Ronaldo for most times appeared in the FIFPro world Continental Stage- 11.
He has the most golden shoes in the European competitions.
He has amazed with 3 goal hauls and scored 8 hattricks the most in the champions league.
He has the most la Liga best player awards at 6.
He has many la Liga titles and best player, most goals scored, most assists for his team and nation. He also has played the most games for Argentina and has scored the most goals for them.
These are just ridiculous statistics of how many records they share between themselves and how many they have individually, and we haven’t been gotten to the point of comparing their trophies that they have earnt along their way. Cristiano Ronaldo surpasses Lionel Messi in the list of personal trophies but in the terms of club trophies they go toe to toe with each other for a whole fifteen rounds but in the end, Lionel Messi lands the knockout punch in this aspect. Messi has amassed a surprising amount of 40 domestic and international trophies whereas Cristiano Ronaldo comes short at 35 trophies. Comparing their personal and club level awards there is no one who could split them apart except on the grounds on opinion. According to statistics the decision would be to give Messi credit for his unbelievable performance and he would be the winner of the round of personal achievements and trophies.
We now come to the less illustrious part of their career, the only sector that these wonderful players could be embarrassed about. By no means are the achievements less then applaudable but compared to the standards that these footballers have set for themselves they fall terribly short over here. Messi has reached a major international tournament final on four occasions, where interestingly he has yet to finish on the winning team. In comparison, Ronaldo and Portugal have had a somewhat mixed bag of tournament success. Most notably, Ronaldo has reached a final twice, where he has tasted both success (2016) and defeat (2004). It must also be noted that during the Euro 2016 final against France, where Portugal surprisingly went on to secure the trophy, Ronaldo went off injured after only 25 minutes so his impact in that game, despite his best efforts from the touchline, was negligible. Having said that, he did play a significant role in his country reaching that stage of the competition (). This is a statistical comparison of their international stage performances.
On the stage none of them have really done anything out of the box but when you compare it to other players they are the best even on this level. Infact Ronaldo holds the record of most goals in one tournament alongside Pele. Messi also holds to his name the credit of performing under pressure and many a times carrying the team to finals and out of the group on his own with his teammates not making any valuable contribution in the game. International football is the kryptonite to the careers of these two footballers but even here they have done plenty to put them on the top of the world. Since Ronaldo has won an international tournament compared to Lionel Messi and the next international tournament is in 2021 when Messi will be 35 and Ronaldo 38 this round goes to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Neymar Jr and Kylian Mbappe are two names that come up when the world of football is asked is there anyone that can outdo Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The hype surrounding Mbappe and Neymar is high as the successors to the dynamic duo of dominance (Ronaldo and Messi). The facts are that Neymar is way behind the Argentinian and the Portuguese man as he is already 26 years and he hasn’t been able to break a single record of theirs and neither has he been able to bag a single Ballon D’Or. He has skill, flair and speed but the players like Ronald and Messi are once in a generation talent which are if not impossible then at least hard to even match. Mbappe is playing in the French League where he is really doing well and already even has a world cup at the age of 19. He has the speed, footwork, tenacity and the skills to maybe one day match these football giants. He is playing in a league where his team is the best and competition is scarce. To prove himself he needs to play against opponents that are competitive and strong enough. Maybe one day in the future he’ll come close as according to current form he is the only player that can do this. Keeping the future aside, after the analysis and comparison both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo one can only marvel at how these humans have changed the world of football in an inhuman manner and both are certainly the top two players to have ever played on a football field. We as a generation have been blessed to witness their exploits on the pitch. The beautiful game saw two youngsters take up the world by storm and stay on top of the mountain for more than a decade. No one will ever be able to look up at them and say they haven’t done enough. Both have ad marvelous careers and their off-seasons where they didn’t do so well are other footballers best seasons. That’s how far away the competition lies. Messi vs Ronaldo the biggest debate of the football community based on statistics, achievements, consistency, skill, speed, dribbling and teams goes to Ronaldo, but it takes nothing away from Messi who is only a millimeter behind in this race. So, concluding the award for the greatest ever player goes to Cristiano Ronaldo for an absolute masterclass in the “field” of football.