It’s the story of two magicians. It’s the story of two rivals and it’s the story of two conquerors. While breathtaking moments of pure wonder created by these two gentlemen on field, have been enchanting us for more than a decade now, the spectators of the sport have always been divided between the two.
Fans spend hours and hours on the internet debating and dissecting their every single move, strengths, and weaknesses. Even the amount of engagements their social media posts receive is overwhelming in itself.
But, how exactly can we decide who’s the greatest and what sets them apart? Do we follow their statistics, check out some whacky algorithm, or listen to the pundits of the sport?
So, join us on this amazing stroll through the careers of two of the most decorated sportsmen to have ever walked amongst us humans.
The Debate Never Stops
Nemanja Matic and Odion Ighalo of Manchester United were the latest to comment on this matter, but they are not the only ones. Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United and one of the greatest tacticians of all time, said, “Now don’t get me wrong, Messi is a fantastic player, it’s like he’s wearing slippers when he controls the ball. But here, for me, is the difference. Messi is a Barcelona player. But Ronaldo could play for Stockport County and score a hat-trick. He has everything.” and nobody can say otherwise.
Ronaldo has played in three different leagues (actually four, if we consider his time in Sporting CP) and has racked up goals after goals, wherever he went. The Portuguese winger’s work rate has been praised by anyone who has ever laid eyes on him during his training session.
His former teammate Patrice Evra, when enquired about the success of Ronaldo, responded by saying this “Cristiano Ronaldo is the most professional player I ever played with. He was the one that if we had training at 10, he would be there at 8. He was the last to leave the training ground, practicing his skill.“
However, it’s not just Ronaldo who gets praised by his managers and peers. Jurgen Klopp, the manager behind the meteoric rise of Liverpool to domestic and European success, took it one step further and claimed, “I have only one selfie on my smartphone. That’s with Messi. Cristiano was in the room as well…” and he has never even coached Messi.
David Beckham, who is regarded as a legend himself, commented this while picking the Blaugrana superstar over his former teammate – “They can have similarities in their technical skills and talent, and it is hallucinating for football to have them both present, but Messi is simply the best player in the world. He is alone in his class as a player; it is impossible that there is another like him.” and surely who can deny the natural talent of the Argentinian. Seeing him weave in and out through the defense of his opponent team and then smash the ball into the back of the net is a special feeling that speaks for itself.
However, they don’t need anyone to speak on their behalf. With more than 700 goals each, both of them have maintained unparalleled consistency throughout their careers. They’re the only players currently active to have touched the landmark of 700 goals.
The goal-scoring threat that they pose is so potent that every time their feet touch the ball, the anticipation of a possible goal soars up and very often, correctly so. But what makes them even more special is their commendable ability to set up the field for an impressive display of team play. It is their unselfishness that separates them from the rest, and with more than 200 assists each, both of them are among the topmost goal providers in the history of football.
The greatness of their rivalry is evident in the world of awards associated with football as well. Collectively they have won 11 out of the last 12 iterations of “The Best FIFA Men’s Player” award (formerly known as FIFA World Player of the Year & FIFA Ballon d’Or), and this further proves their domination over the modern era of football.
Of course, both of them have different specialties and skill sets that make them the deadliest of opponents on the pitch. While Messi is considered more of a natural genius, the sole reason for Cristiano’s success is his hard work and dedication to be the best in the world. But, be it the technical or physical attributes, when the time to deliver comes, the number of weapons in their arsenal is unbelievably limitless.
With one phenomenal performance followed by another, they’re two professionals who continue to prove that age is just a number. The whole world saw Ronaldo join Juventus in search of a new challenge after spending nine years at Real Madrid, where he had scored a whopping 451 goals in 438 outings. Reportedly, he commanded a transfer fee of £105 million, an amount unheard of, for any club-transfer involving a 33-year-old. But for Juventus, it turned out to be a masterstroke as the club made over $60 million in his T-shirt sales within the first 24 hours of his joining the club.
Messi is one step ahead when it comes to wages. To make him stay at any cost, Barcelona FC provides him with one lucrative deal after another every time his contract is about to get over. According to Forbes, Messi’s 2019 playing salary for Barcelona was the highest for any athlete across all team sports. Yes, such is their popularity that brands sign lifetime deals worth millions, knowing that their fans across the globe would pay anything to have their merchandise.
However, they are still well connected to their roots despite all the fame and wealth. Their generosity and big-hearted nature eclipses the fierce ruthlessness they exhibit in front of the goal. Coming from humble backgrounds, they always extend a helping hand to those in need. While Messi has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2010, Cristiano’s selfless act of auctioning off his cherished Ballon d’Or trophy proves that he’s all heart despite his temperamental demeanor. Both of them are equally generous when it comes to making charitable contributions, and recently they have both donated about $1 million for the fight against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Still, the question of who’s the better player remains unanswered. It is so hard to declare a winner in this never-ending debate of who’s the Greatest Of All Time, and maybe the words of “The Special One” will help both Messi and Ronaldo fans to understand why it is so.
In an interview last year, Jose Mourinho said, “I think it’s unfair to both of them when somebody says this one is better than the other one. I think they are just different. When you go to Messi and Ronaldo, I think it’s just unfair to compare the players. The only thing I can say is that when I had Ronaldo on my side, I was a very happy man. And when I had to play against Messi – and also against Ronaldo because I played against Ronaldo a few times – I had to think a lot to try and help my team have chances to succeed.”
To be precise, it was never my intention to settle this debate because no one honestly can. I know just enough to say that no one alive can make that decision. How are we even eligible to comment on their abilities? They’re simply unstoppable! Shouldn’t we just be happy and feel lucky about being born in an era where we could watch these legends perform their magic for us?
I know that a lot of fans would disagree, and that is expected. It’s natural that when two great talents arise in the same generation, the whole world starts comparing them and pitting them against each other. History is filled with great rivalries like the ones between Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal, Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier, and Ayrton Senna-Alain Prost. Ronaldo and Messi are no exception.
Most of their rivalry is a product of the imagination of their fans and their need to prove the greatness of their superstar. Either one of them, when enquired about the other, has only nice things to say about how this rivalry helped them to grow into the goal-machine they are.
Both Cristiano and Messi have admitted how much they miss playing against each other and openly admired the long and consistent career they’ve had. Don’t you think it’s about time we stopped comparing the two Gods as well and enjoyed their presence while we still can?