The end of the Messi and Ronaldo debate?

by Niall Noonan

Messi Argentina World CupOne of the main narratives of this World Cup has been the, seemingly, eternal debate of who is the better footballer, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. It has been framed as the ultimate showdown between the two greatest players of their generation. This time last year it seemed the question had been put to bed, Messi was the answer and all that remained was for him to count the personal achievements before he retired.

However, after a blistering campaign at Real Madrid, Ronaldo, was able to claim the Ballon D’Or and the European Cup,  finishing the season as many people’s preferred choice. Something has to give in the contest and if neither the Champions League nor La Liga can provide us with a suitable answer than perhaps this summer’s tournament might.

But, this being the pinnacle of all of football, there is also the added intrigue of whether or not either player can truly take their place among the immortals of the game. Are Messi and Ronaldo simply just the greatest of their generation, or can they climb the ladder and take their place among the greatest of all time? The World Cup is seen by most as the litmus test of becoming a footballing icon whose name spans generations. For anyone hoping to achieve that immortality, winning it is seen as a must. For however great Eusebio, Puskas, Di Stefano and Cruyff were, when they are spoken of it is always in a slightly more hushed tone than the likes of Pele, Maradona and Zidane. There is a genuine belief that a player must truly shine, and win, at a World Cup. Given that this is both Ronaldo and Messi’s third World Cup, and knowing that neither have truly dazzled at international level in the way they have done so at their respective clubs, there is a sense that time is running out for them to make that final step.

But perhaps that notion isn’t truly fair. When you look at the array of stats, honours and trophies that both men have amassed between them than it seems like there can be little argument as to whether they are among the greatest of all time. Messi, perhaps the one people most expect to take the final step, has scored more goals in a calendar year than any other player of any generation. He is also Barcelona’s all-time top goal scorer, has scored the most goals for Argentina in a calendar year (tied with Gabriel Batistuta), and has the most FIFA Ballon d’Or awards, alongside about two dozen other accolades. Ronaldo, for his part, has broken his own laundry list of records and doesn’t look like stopping. In an era when the Spanish national team has set itself apart as probably the greatest of all time than these two have been so rampant that they have made sure that no individual Spanish player can touch them, a huge feat in itself.

So have they peaked? If neither player is able to dominate a tournament like Pele in 1958, Maradona in 1986 or Zidane in 2006, than will they remain in second tier of footballing legends? The answer is undoubtedly yes. A World Cup makes up for any missing piece of a footballing CV but nothing makes up for the absence of the trophy itself. Few ever discuss how Maradona never won a European Cup, or how Pele never even played in Europe. People bypass Zidane never having hit double figures in goals or assists in any of his Real Madrid seasons. The only real reason they do so is because all three are World Cup winners and all three can justifiably lay claim to having been the best player at individual competitions.

Neither Messi nor Ronaldo have that. They have their club achievements and stats to back up their claim to being the greatest of all time, but this summer they have a chance to set that right. After one round of games, however, it’s not looking promising for Ronaldo. Crushed by the Germans, and with Ronaldo himself looking half fit, Portugal look quite likely to be heading home as soon as possible. With this being potentially Ronaldo’s last World Cup, he will be 33 by the time Russia rolls around, his chance looks to have passed him by.  For Messi the outlook looks somewhat brighter, even if he flattered to deceive somewhat in Argentina’s opening match against an uninspired Bosnian side. Looking nervous up until the side’s second goal, a superb piece of play straight from the Nou Camp, he will need to improve greatly in the knockout stages if he is to have his moment in the Maracana.

Games against Nigeria and Iran should allow him to hone his instincts and give him the confidence he needs heading in to the last sixteen. Should he go on to light up the tournament and win the trophy than surely the debate as to whether he is the greatest of all time will be over. He will not only put Ronaldo in the shadows once and for all but he just might create a new tier of legendary footballer all for himself. It’s probably not fair to Ronaldo but football rarely is.

1 Response

  1. Pele who says:

    Ronaldo in my opinion is the better player than Messi

    Unlike Lionel, Crsitiano Ronaldo has proven himelf in the two most competitive, physically challenging leagues in todays football. Not only that, but he has won both the champions league, Ballon d’or, golden boot and domestic league in both Spain/England, the only man in HISTORY to do so.
    Ronaldo has the ability to score/pass/cross effectively with both feet, and put the ball in the back of the net with his headl doing so every game, literally. Ronaldo is naturally more skillfull than messi, who relies almost completely on his small, agile abilty to run into the box effectively and score with his left foot 99% of the time. At 6 foot 2, Ronaldo isnt able to do this at the same effect.

    Messi has been credited for many of his goals through perhaps the best team in history, Barcelona. With Xavi and Iniesta, a strong defence, and an attacking team completely dedicated to scoring through the centre forward, Messi. its impossible for him to not succeed. Ronaldo is a singular player in a flawed team as of 2013. Real madrid struggle defensively and dont have the playmakers to signify Ronaldo to his best ability

    European competitons, Ronaldo is better for me. The UCL is the biggest trophy at club level, and Ronaldo currently holds the record for most goals in a single campaign, 17 goals, 3 more than Messi. Although Messi has a better goal/game ratio in Europe, Ronaldo for 3/4 years was a winger who struggled to score at all, until 2006 when he really showed his abilty to score and play as an actual forward. Messi has almost always been a finisher, a forward in his early days and a striker now. Ronaldo in recent years, has dominated european teams such as dortmund, Bayern, Manchester United, Chelsea and schalke. Messi’s finest day against bayern was a 7 goal thrashing

    Outscoring, Ronaldo has outscored messi in 2013, 2011, 2010 and 2008. Messi’s 2012 was that outstanding that ronaldos feats are at times ignored, a sadenning fact.

    To conclude, at times although messi has certainly outplayed ronaldo, and his prime may be better than Cristianos, its impossible to ignore that Ronaldo is a more complete forward, and his abilty to perform better in the UCL puts him higher as of 2014, than messi. And arguably better than anyone on the planet

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply