Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two best footballers on the planet, but who has the edge?
Footballers and fans alike around the world rarely question the outstanding talent both possess, both have won a haul of trophies, graced the football pitches of many stadiums and generally made the beautiful game live up to its expectation.
The FIFA World Player of the Year in 2008 and a winger who plundered an unbelievable 42 goals across all competitions in 2007-08, Ronaldo won all there was to win with the Red Devils and finally earned his dream move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for a world record fee of £80 million as part of the new era of galacticos at the Bernabeu.
After blossoming under Sir Alex Ferguson at United, he had the chance to come of age at the 2006 World Cup, though one of the memorable images of the tournament was his wink at the bench after Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney was sent off in a game against England. He also came in for fierce criticism for diving, which resulted in him being booed at games and it cost him the Young Player of the Tournament award.
Still, love him or loathe him, it is hard to ignore his talent and his skills are almost beyond comparison in the world game. That said, Ronaldo has wrongs to right after he failed to dazzle at the 2010 World Cup, despite being tipped to be the shining star in South Africa.
He remains, though, prolific as ever for his club Real, the Portuguese earning the Pichichi as La Liga’s top scorer in 2010-11, in the same season helping his club to Copa del Rey glory. Indeed, his prolific nature in front of goal did not spot there, as during the 2011-12 season he scored 46 La Liga goals to help fire Real to the Spanish title.
Lionel Messi is the heir apparent to the throne left vacant by Diego Armando Maradona. The waters are divided between those who consider him to be far from being the best No. 10, and those who believe that Messi will be even better than Maradona.
Born in Rosario, he cut his teeth in the youth ranks of Newell’s Old Boys, until a hormonal problem that affected his growth changed the plans of his family and, of course, his personal future. Facing expensive treatment for their son, Messi’s parents moved to Spain as Newell’s were not able to afford the medical costs related to his condition, and even the wealthiest Argentine teams, such as River Plate, refused to foot the bill.
After his first trial with Barcelona, the Catalan coaches had no doubts. They decided to sign Messi and pay for his medical treatment. His growth was noticeable within Barca, and in little time he came to be considered one of the great talents at the club. He made his debut in the first division in October 2004, against Espanyol, and Barcelona have since adopted him as one of their greatest idols.
His first championship would come in the Liga season of 2004-05. Since then, and playing a more prominent role every season, he has won every major club trophy at Camp Nou – including a stunning haul of six in 2008-09 – and claimed the World Player of the Year award three times in three years, leaving many in little doubt as to the fact that Messi is the best player of his generation; possibly of all-time.
That idea was given further weight in March 2012 when, at the age of 24, he became the all-time top scorer at Barcelona – beating the 232 goals of Cesar Rodriguez.
So, Who is Better?
Evaluating individuals in a team sport is highly contentious, more so in football. The arguments—and the results—are tilted in Leo Messi’s favour right now. He has just broken Gerd Muller’s 39-year-old record of scoring 67 goals in a season for a club, going up to 72. He has won more titles (18 to Ronaldo’s 9), and has been ‘world footballer of the year’ for three years running. He has scored 252 goals in 328 club appearances; Ronaldo 269 out of 467. And Messi is only 24, more than two years younger than Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was the first player in history to score against every team in La Liga and netted a record 23 away goals. When you consider the main reason Madrid built up such a big lead in the table was due to a club record 11 successive away wins, and that they closed the season unbeaten in 23 games and in 17 away games, including at Barcelona where Ronaldo scored the winner to end Barceona’s 54 game unbeaten run at Camp Nou, Ronaldo’s goals were undeniably vital to Madrid’s title win.
Ronaldo’s assists were not that shy of Messi last season. Messi was equal 2nd in La Liga with 15 assists, Ronaldo was next best, equal with one other player with 12. Messi had 5 assists in the Champions League , Ronaldo had 3. This is not a huge difference, especially when you consider Messi takes corners and this would have contributed a number of times.
However, Messi plays in a Barcelona team, that is often considered the best side in the world, perhaps, under Pep Guardiola, the best footballing team to ever compete. This opens the debate as to whether proven world-class footballers such as Xavi and Iniesta are making Messi look better than he actually is. This argument also comes into contention at international level, as for Argentina, Messi rarely performs to the level expected of him.
Since moving away from Manchester United, Ronaldo has developed into one of the best players in the world. Unlike Messi, Ronaldo’s Real Madrid team do not contain a host of international World Cup winners, solely Casillas and Xabi Alonso. Even in his early days at United, Ronaldo was prolific, helping the club to multiple league domestic cups wins, as well as a champions league victory in his final season. World-class players such as Higuain, Benzema, Di Maria and Ozil have hugely underperformed this season, however, Madrid sit top of La Liga. The burden of success has clearly fallen onto Ronaldo’s shoulders and he has thrived with it
Ronaldo’s fans typically argue that he is the more complete player and leaves more of a mark than Messi, who is helpless without the midfield genius of his Barcelona team mates, and that he has not shone on the international stage in the way he has for his club side. Unfortunately, there is no way to settle this, without Messi playing for another club, which seems unlikely since he has announced that he would like to retire at Barcelona
At International level, there’s no denying that Ronaldo plays the more pivotal role for his country. He currently captains Portuguese national side and it’s fairly obvious to see that his team mates rely on him heavily for any potential success.
This has been emphasized by his recent performances in Poland and Ukraine. After having a poor start to the tournament, Ronaldo struggled to find form in his side’s two opening games against Germany and Denmark. However, he eventually found his form, scoring twice against the Dutch to secure a place in the Knock-out stages. He then went on to score the winning goal against the Czech Republic to secure a place in the competition’s semi-final phase, against favourites Germany.
Having scored 35 goals for his country in 94 appearances, he sits in third place in the Portuguese all-time scoring leader board, for a midfield player this is extremely impressive at this level. On top of this, he has represented Portugal in 2 World Cups and 34 European championships.
Messi however did recently score a hat-trick for Argentina in a 4-3 victory over Brazil. But there is no doubt that Ronaldo is a much more important player to his national side. As a forward, Messi’s 26 goals in 70 games is not as impressive as the former.
Ronaldo remains the World’s most expensive player in history, having signed for Real Madrid for £80 million from Manchester United during the 2009 summer transfer window. His current contract with the Spanish League Champions earns the Portuguese forward almost €13 million per year, this contributes to his yearly €29.2 million earnings that make him one of the highest-paid footballers in the world. His contract also entails a buy-out clause valued at around €1 billion.
On the other hand, Lionel Messi moved to Barcelona for a much less extravagant price-tag. His rise to the top could not contrast more starkly to that of Ronaldo. The Argentinean left Newell’s Old Boys for Barcelona at the age of 13, with the club paying for treatment on a growth hormone deficiency that threatened to stunt his progress as a footballer.
Messi currently tops the list of richest players. Annually he earns around €33 million annually. The Barcelona forward makes €10.5 million through his yearly club contract and collects €1.5 million in bonuses. His release clause evaluates to
Interestingly, the largest portion of Messi’s massive yearly earnings comes through advertising and other contracts. The 24-year-old currently pockets €21 million through ads and other contracts – this compares to the €15.5 million that Ronaldo accumulates from marketing.
Trophies and Awards
Both players have won and abundance of trophies and awards. These include both club and individual accolades. Ronaldo has won 10 trophies at the age of 27. Messi has won 18 at the age of 24. Both have been crowned Champions League winners and experienced La Liga Success.
Ironically Ronaldo arrived at the Bernabeu as the World’s best. Since then, individually, Ronaldo has produced fireworks in the Spanish League.
Let’s not forget even Ronaldo’s last game for United was a loss against Messi, who headed the second as Barcelona buried the Red Devils in the Champions League final in Rome.
Ronaldo arrived at the Bernabeu as the reigning World Player of the Year after scoring 42 goals for United in his penultimate season and winning the Premier and Champions League double (after dumping Barca out in the semis).
But since joining Madrid he has seen Messi win the crown of the world’s best playerTHREE times. Even when Spain won the World Cup Messi was STILL voted the No1 on the planet.
Ronaldo’s character and perseverance must be praised as he has kept going and improving where many would have wilted.
But since he’s gone to Madrid he has only won the Spanish Cup.
In that time Messi has won TEN trophies — two Ligas, a Champions League, two European Supercups, two club World Cups and three Spanish Supercups.
In 11 matches head-to-head, Barcelona have won seven and drawn three while Madrid have only won ONE.
This season, Ronaldo led his team to La Liga title success, the first time Madrid had won the league in four years, for this victory the Portuguese winger should take a lot of the credit. Messi on the other hand walked away with just the Copa Del Rey.
Neither Messi nor Ronaldo has come even close to World Cup glory. But that is irrelevant today, as the world’s showcase football competition is the UEFA Champions League, not the World Cup. Most players tire out playing for their clubs, and national teams seldom benefit from their best players at their best. The dominant club teams today are Messi’s Barcelona and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.
It seems as if Lionel Messi breaks a goalscoring record every other week, such is his mindblowing knack for finding the back of the net. He has recently become Barcelona’s all time leading scorer at the age of 24 and this season (11/12), has surpassed the highest tally notched up in a single La Liga season with several games to spare. He is simply one of the greatest goalscorers of all time and will no doubt set practically unbreakable records throughout his career.
Remarkably, Ronaldo matches Messi’s ability to find the back of the net and can also be considered as one of the greatest goalscorers of all time. In the 2010/2011 season he notched no less than 7 hat-tricks (twice with 4 goals ) and this season (11/12) has, along with Messi, surpassed the number of goals scored in a single La Liga season with games to spare. And the battle as to who will win the race to set the new record rages on.
Heading is one of the few aspects of Messi’s game that is probably not widely considered as being a world class attribute. He is far from poor with his head though and chances are he will punish you if he’s presented with a decent heading opportunity. Many will remember he famously headed his team into a 2 goal lead against Man Utd in the 2009 Champions League final.
For someone with such elegant skills and technique on the ground, Ronaldo can leap and power his head through the ball like a League Two centre back, with many of his countless goals coming via his noggin. The fact that Ronaldo towers over the much smaller Messi makes it no surprise that he is far more effective with his head.
Messi’s vision and creativity with a dead ball is what sets him apart from most free-kick specialists. His ability to identify a spot and a route to that spot that eludes all opposing players in his way is simply pure class. He perhaps lacks the force that Ronaldo can get behind a dead ball, but it’s the finesse that makes his free-kicks special.
Ronaldo’s combination of sheer power and ability to make a ball move in all manner of directions perhaps put him above all other dead ball specialists. Ronaldo can take his unique free kick stance in almost any area of the oppositions half and still strike fear into opposing defenders that know the damage he can inflict from impossible distances
Messi’s overall penalty record can almost only be considered average, having scored 20 from 27 as of February 2012. This season though (11/12) he has put 10 out of 11 attempts past the keeper which is certainly an above average return from the spot. Similarly to free-kicks, Messi probably lacks the power that Ronaldo can put into his spot kicks, which can be even more effective from 12 yards out.
Ronaldo on the other hand has an unrivalled record from the penalty spot. As of February 2012, he had scored 23 from 24 penalties for Real, which is nothing short of incredible. This season has been no different for CR7, having netted 12 from 12 spot kicks so far.
Skill & Technique
Messi has a near perfect combination of technique, speed, balance and intelligence which give him the uncanny ability to sprint into a crowd of players and come out the other side with the ball still at his feet and in complete control. Whilst Messi isn’t the fastest of sprinters, the speed at which his feet can move can seem almost impossible and combined with his abundance of skill, can often create the illusion that the ball is just glued to his feet.
Ronaldo is king of the step-over and has plenty more tricks up his sleeve that, with the help of his lightning pace, can take him past defenders as if they weren’t there. Whilst Ronaldo’s skill and technique cannot be questioned, he can be guilty of one step-over too many or a bit of flamboyance & showmanship that wasn’t really necessary; sometimes costing his team possession.
At 5 foot 7 inches, Messi isn’t the tallest of guys and in his younger days, was in real danger of being overlooked (quite literally) due to his slight build and lack of physical prowess. Luckily (for him and for us), his breathtaking, natural talent shone through. And his size can be quite deceptive! He is perfectly capable of holding his own against his larger opponents and can pack some serious power behind his shots.
Physically, Ronaldo is as close to perfection as it gets for the modern day footballer. At 6 foot 2, he’s got the height and with the help of his impecible physique, he has the strength of an ox. Where Messi has the edge with skill & technique, Ronaldo makes up for with strength and speed
For someone with so much skill and so many solo goals to his name, Messi has a remarkable reputation as a team player and is very rarely accused of holding onto the ball longer than he should have done. His scoring record is obviously closely matched by Ronaldo, but it’s the assists count that shows a clear gap in Messi’s favour. Messi has also won the Ballon d’Or award 3 years running, but always attributes the award to his team-mates Xavi and Iniesta, highlighting Messi as a very humble man for someone of his talent.
In contrast to Messi, Ronaldo has often been the subject of frustration for both fans and team-mates, often guilty of trying to do too much on his own when using a team mate might have been a better option. Despite this issue, you cannot ignore the fact that Ronaldo’s assist record is a very healthy one, although someway short of Messi.
Messi is a very likeable character and has a fantastic reputation the world over as someone who just wants to play football. Unsurprisingly, due to his lightning quick feet and skill, Messi is hacked at and kicked countless times almost every game, but where some players would go down, rolling around in ‘agony’, Messi usually does everything he can to stay on his feet and continue the attack. Even in the penalty area, Messi opts to stay upright, which says a lot about the confidence he has in his own ability.
Ronaldo on the other hand, has received much criticism for this part of his game, often being accused of going down too easily to the benefit of his team. English supporters will most prominently remember his infamous wink in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final after Rooney’s challenge on Ronaldo resulted in a red card for the English striker
The final scores highlight just how close the battle is between these 2 players and just how lucky we are to have them both playing in one generation.
Messi dropped points mainly due to his physical limitations in areas such as heading, strength and power, but he topped his opponent on natural ability and technique on the ball, as well as his effectiveness on the rest of the team.
It is perhaps the initiative he holds on the latter points that has led to the more widely accepted view that Messi is the outright, best player in the world today, and in many people’s opinion – the best ever.
Ronaldo has sometimes had to accept life in the shadow of Messi, which for someone of Ronaldo’s talent and effectiveness, must be frustrating.
However, there is no doubting that since Ronaldo’s move to Spain, the gap has grown ever smaller and now – certainly in terms of goals at least – there is a great case for claiming the 2 players are now on a par, or perhaps, that Ronaldo has even overtaken the Argentinian. Ronaldo’s victory in last season’s (10/11) La Liga scoring charts has simply fueled the aforementioned argument.
Whatever your stance though, there is little doubt that these 2 players are light years ahead of anybody else playing the game today, and will surely go down as 2 of footballs all time greats.