Who is more important for their side - Messi or Ronaldo?
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi is a debate that has been ongoing for years, and it is not looking like letting up in the foreseeable future. In a world where stats are so prominent in football, it is not surprising that the two talismanic figures have their performances scrutinised and compared week in week out. The pair have been draped in medals throughout their career, with Ronaldo even opening his own ‘CR7 Museum’ in Madeira Portugal. Record breaking is something both have become accustomed to, and is a rare trait that both have in common too.
Messi has the all time record for the most goals in a calendar year, but Ronaldo has the record for the most goals in a single Champions League season. Messi scored a match winning hat trick against Brazil to finally silence the critics who say he doesn’t perform for his country – while Ronaldo finished a disappointing World Cup Qualifying campaign by scoring a critical hat trick to send Portugal to the World Cup in Brazil. The two best players of their generation have been going at it hammer and tongs for the top club and individual awards in football, but how would their respective clubs fare without their star men?
This season, Barcelona got a glimpse of what life would be like without Messi, with muscle problems keeping him out for over 2 months around New Year and Christmas. While Neymar did quite well in Messi’s absence, Barça fans were eventually left crying out for the return of Messi, with the team clearly lacking in cutting edge in advanced areas of the pitch.
Messi’s importance to Barcelona was never more evident than in the Champions League Quarter Final tie with PSG last season (2012-2013). With the first leg in Paris ending all square at 2-2, and Messi not even half fit after sustaining a hamstring injury in the first leg, the Catalan club were expecting a tight second leg. Messi made the bench for the Camp Nou leg seemingly as a wildcard, having not trained all week in the build up. With just over an hour played, and Barca 1-0 down on the night thanks to a Javier Pastore goal, Messi insisted to the coaching staff that he was coming on. Nine minutes later, the Argentinean constructed a Barca goal which Pedro finished off. On one leg, Messi dragged Barcelona through a Champions League Quarter Final – leaving the pitch with a noticeable limp. “He showed tonight he is the best player in the world, even if he is not fully fit”, conceded gracious PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti after the match.
“The Flea” – as he is known in his native Argentina, has now scored 67 goals in only 86 Champions League games. Still aged only 26, Messi currently sits alongside Ronaldo in second place in the all time Champions League scoring charts, a mere four goals shy of Raul’s record.
Amazingly, Cristiano Ronaldo has been a bargain for Real Madrid since joining for £80million from Manchester United in 2009. The Portugal Captain broke the four year streak of Ballon d’Or awards that Messi had won previous to this January, and has propelled his side to the brink of La Décima (Real Madrid’s tenth Champions League title). In the 163 League Games that Ronaldo has featured for Real, he has scored an astonishing 177 goals.
Real Madrid however, have not exactly struggled in the absence of Cristiano this season. Madrid have won their last 8 league games without Ronaldo, allowing the likes of Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria and Karim Benzema to come to the fore. Di Maria himself is having his most fruitful season yet for Real Madrid, and the addition of Bale adds guaranteed goals and assists with or without Ronaldo.
That being said, it is without question that Real Madrid are a much better side with Ronaldo in the team – something his scoring record alone shows. In all competitions since moving to Spain, Ronaldo has scored 251 goals in 244 games. His obsession to be the best has propelled him to new heights of late, just as he enters the peak years of his career.
Perhaps a consequence of the playing style of the two clubs, I feel Lionel Messi is absolutely more important to Barcelona than Cristiano Ronaldo is to Real Madrid. At their fluent best between 2008 and 2012, Barcelona proved to be an unstoppable force with the all round influence that Messi had on the team. However, now that Real Madrid are in the final of the Champions League, and are running Atlético Madrid all the way in the league, is the tide slowly turning back in the favour of Real?
Although I have my opinions on who I feel is the better player, for once I will keep it to myself, and be thankful that I have lived in the same generation as these two freaks. Although it will likely never become a reality, it is interesting to ponder if things had worked out differently, how the both of these players would perform in a role reversal.
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