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A serious discussion point on five-a-side pitches and barstools across the world, the issue of which player is the greatest of all time persistsCristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi - who is the GOAT? It is the biggest conundrum in football since the 'Diego Maradona or Pele?' debate.
The question of who is better between the Portuguese phenomenon and the empyrean Argentine has dominated the minds of football fans everywhere for the past decade and will persist into the future.
Club and national loyalties can cloud judgement on the matter, while personalities also play a part in how good a player is perceived to be, and most people know who they'd pick.
The Messi–Ronaldo rivalry is a football rivalry between fans of Argentine forward Lionel Messi and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and supposedly between the players themselves. Having won a combined 11 Ballon d'Or/FIFA Ballon d'Or awards (six for Messi and five for Ronaldo) and 10 European Golden Shoe awards (six for Messi and four for Ronaldo), both are widely regarded not only as the two best players of their generation, but also, by most in the sport, including players, writers and fans, as two of the greatest of all time. They are two of the most decorated football players ever, having won a combined 67 trophies (Ronaldo 33, Messi 35) during their senior careers thus far, and have regularly broken the 50-goal barrier in a single season. They are amongst the 29 players in the history of the sport to score over 500 career goals, with both having scored over 700 goals each in their careers for club and country.
Journalists and pundits regularly argue the individual merits of both players in an attempt to establish who they believe is the best player in modern football or ever. Regardless of preference, football critics unanimously agree that both are the best players of their generation, outperforming their peers by a significant margin. Messi's dribbling skills are among the very best in the history of football, while Ronaldo's leadership and influence in big games, particularly under pressure, are well-appreciated worldwide. It has been compared to past global sports rivalries such as the Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier rivalry in boxing, the Roger Federer–Rafael Nadal rivalry and the Björn Borg–John McEnroe rivalry in tennis, and the Alain Prost–Ayrton Senna rivalry in Formula One motor racing. Some commentators choose to analyse the differing physiques and playing styles of the two, while part of the debate revolves around the contrasting personalities of the two players: Ronaldo is sometimes described as someone of temperamental character while Messi is portrayed as having a more reserved character.
At club level, Messi and Ronaldo represented rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid for nearly a decade. The two players faced each other at least twice every season in the world's most popular regular-season club game, El Clásico (among the most viewed annual sporting events), from Ronaldo's arrival at Real in 2009 until his transfer to Italian club Juventus F.C. in 2018. Off the field, they are also the face of two rival sportswear manufacturers, Messi of Adidas and Ronaldo of Nike, which are also the kit suppliers of their national teams and the opposite for their clubs. The two highest-paid players in football, Messi and Ronaldo are among the world's best-paid sports stars in combined income from salaries, bonuses and off-field earnings. In 2018, Messi edged Ronaldo on Forbes' list of best-paid sportspeople, earning $111 million, with Ronaldo next at $108 million.
So who really is the greatest of all time? Never mind who you prefer, Goal has taken a look at how the pair actually shape up head-to-head so you can be fully armed with facts in the eternal argument.
Advanced statistics proves Messi is better
Both Ronaldo and Messi have impressive stats, but a closer look at them proves Messi make decisions better and, more importantly, brings greater value to his team. Using a framework that was originally developed for baseball, The Economist rated Messi and Ronaldo goals based on their context and importance. These stats, called Expected Points Added (EPA), rate goals by their added win probability. Meaning, a winning goal in the last minute of the game is rated higher than the fourth goal scored in a 4-0 win. Messi’s EPA stands at 59.5 while Ronaldo’s is 50.4.
Moreover, Messi makes better decisions. Using a complex algorithm, a company called GoodCall values a player’s decision-making and Efficiency Per Match (EPM). This entails valuing each pass, shot, chance created or a dribble made by players, and then rating the player’s decision-making and efficiency. Messi’s EPM is 238, and he makes good decisions 0.63% of the time. Ronaldo’s EPM is 118 and his decision making rate stands only on 0.43%.
Messi is a better team player
Messi is not only an incredible scorer and gifted playmaker, he also makes everyone around him a better player. A true leader, he brings his team together. Not only does he have more assists and key passes than Ronaldo, he is always using his phenomenal vision to keep his teammates involved. He has great tactical intelligence, finding free spaces to move into, receiving the ball and then laying it off to a team-mate, to build attacks.
While Ronaldo is a more of an executor, who plays high up the pitch and scores great goals when given the chance, Messi, who can do that just as well, but is also comfortable dropping deep and keeping possession of the ball with his team. From these positions, he can send his colleagues on dangerous runs with pin-point passes. This versatility makes him that much better than Ronaldo.
Messi and Ronaldo differ mostly in their style. Ronaldo is a machine. He is an explosive player, with abnormal physical abilities and a huge amount of talent. Tall and strong and certainly one of the greatest players, Ronaldo doesn’t possess Messi’s magic.
The Argentine is a greater natural talent. He is a virtuoso, a magician. His dribbling is considered to be the best the game has ever seen, and he passes and shoots the ball with theprecision of a brain surgeon. He makes eye-popping moves that leave people speechless and overwhelmed. Seeing him weave his way through a team’s defense and then put the ball past the keeper is just something special.
Ronaldo has scored more club goals than Messi, but only just and it should be noted that the Juventus star benefits from having played two more seasons than his Argentine nemesis thus far.
Each of them has remarkably netted over 630 club goals in their career so far, with the five seasons between 2009-10 and 2014-15 proving particularly golden as they pushed each other to greater heights.
While Ronaldo currently has more goals overall, Messi has the edge in the scoring department, with a higher season average (40 to 35), having hit a high of 73 goals in 2011-12.
Ronaldo's highest season return was 61, which he achieved in 2014-15 and he surpassed the 50-goal mark every season for six years between 2010-11 and 2015-16.
Interestingly, while Ronaldo's seasonal totals have declined somewhat in recent years - he failed to break the 30-goal mark in 2018-19 during his first season at Juventus - Messi's have remained consistent.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Club assists
Cristiano RonaldoSeasonLionel Messi72009-1011162010-1121152011-1229122012-1314142013-1411212014-1527152015-1623112016-171682017-1818102018-191952019-2025In progress2020-21In progress
When it comes to assists, Messi is much superior to Ronaldo and that contrast has become increasingly stark as their respective roles evolve.
The fact that Messi creates so many goals as well as scoring them is a major consideration when deciding which player is the GOAT and, while Ronaldo chips in with his fair share, the difference in this particular realm is clear.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Champions League stats
Cristiano RonaldoChampions League statLionel Messi173Appearances146132Goals1180.76Goals per game0.8
*As of Champions League games played on Dec. 2, 2020
Ronaldo is the all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League, having shone in the competition with Manchester United and Real Madrid in particular.
However, Messi isn't far behind and actually has a fractionally better goal-per-game ratio, so there is a good chance that he could overtake the Juventus man if he continues to sparkle in the competition .
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: World Cup stats
Cristiano RonaldoWorld Cup statLionel Messi17Appearances197Goals60.4Goals per game0.3
When it comes to World Cups, Ronaldo and Messi are considered underperformers and probably with good reason.
Portugal star Ronaldo has scored more goals at the tournament and in fewer appearances, but Messi can claim to have gone furthest, having reached the final with Argentina in 2014. The Barca attacker won the Golden Ball during that tournament, despite missing out on the ultimate glory at the hands of Germany.
The furthest Ronaldo reached with Portugal was the Selecao's run to the semi-final in 2006, when they were beaten by France before losing the third-place play-off against Germany.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: International stats
Cristiano RonaldoStatLionel Messi170International caps142102International goals710.6Goals per game0.5
Ronaldo and Messi have similar records at international level, though Ronaldo boasts greater numbers, partly because his senior Portugal career kicked off two years before Messi's with Argentina.
Ronaldo is closing in on Ali Daei's record of 109 international goals and could conceivably become the top international goalscorer of all time before he hangs up his boots.
Messi is a long way behind Ronaldo in that respect, though he is by some distance Argentina's top goalscorer of all time, surpassing Gabriel Batistuta some years ago.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Titles
Cristiano RonaldoCompetitionLionel Messi0World Cup01European Championship / Copa America00Olympics17League titles105Champions League44Club World Cup33National Cups*620Total24
*National Cups refers to the main national cup competition in a country only, e.g. the FA Cup, Copa del Rey etc.
Messi and Ronaldo have very similar trophy hauls, but Messi edges things when it comes to league titles, having won La Liga 10 times with Barcelona. Ronaldo has seven league titles, but unlike Messi, he can claim to have won the league in three different countries (England, Spain and Italy) - something that increases his claim to the GOAT crown in the eyes of some.
Ronaldo has an edge over Messi in the Champions League, his love affair with the competition earning him the moniker 'Mr Champions League'. The former Manchester United star has also enjoyed notable success on the international stage, winning the European Championship and the UEFA Nations League.
Messi, on the other hand, has endured considerable heartache with Argentina, with four unsuccessful Copa America campaigns, three of which saw them lose in the final. While neither has won the World Cup, Messi has an Olympic gold medal.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Individual awards
Cristiano RonaldoAwardLionel Messi5Ballon d'Or62The Best FIFA Men's Player14European Golden Shoe60World Cup Golden Ball14UEFA Player of the Year313FIFPro World XI134Player of the Year (league)6
The individual battle between Ronaldo and Messi has been the defining feature of modern football for the past decade and more.
Messi went ahead of Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes when he won his sixth in 2019 and it looks likely that he will stay ahead, with the 2020 award cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the next chance Ronaldo has of winning is 2021, by which point he will be nearly 37.
Ronaldo does boast more of FIFA's new 'The Best' awards and has been crowned UEFA Player of the Year on more occasions, but Messi has won more league Player of the Year accolades. Of course, it must be said that Ronaldo has won the Player of the Year award in England, Spain and Italy.
Messi has got his hands on the European Golden Shoe a record six times, which is two more than Ronaldo, and is marginally ahead of his rival overall, but the fact that both have been on the FIFPro World XI 13 times is an illustration of how closely fought the battle has been.
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