Who’s the best?
For the past several seasons, the debate of who is the greatest soccer player in the world invariably returns to these two giants: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Both are incredible goal scorers, both have won and scored in Champions League finals and both have led their clubs to domestic titles. Clearly they are both great, and clearly there is no other that approaches their collective brilliance. But who’s the best?
Cristiano Ronaldo’s speed, strength, skill, and iconic step?over have been striking fear in the hearts of professional defenders for over 10 years. He has the ideal build and combination of abilities for an attacking player. He can score from distance with his powerful right foot, and he can score with accuracy using his left. What’s more, he can use his 6 foot 1 inch frame and basketball player’s vertical leap to score with his head.
He led La Liga in goals scored in the 2010?11 season, tallying 40 for his club team, Real Madrid. The 2011?12 season brought 46 more goals in La Liga for Ronaldo, and he already has 24 goals in 23 appearances so far this season.
Were Messi not in this generation of soccer players, Cristiano Ronaldo would easily wear the crown of best in the world. Unfortunately for Cristiano, this is not the case.
Former and current players, coaches and commentators alike have bestowed seemingly every plaudit upon Lionel Messi. There is no one with a better combination of speed, agility, touch and balance, all of which allow him to dribble through groups of defenders, always keeping the ball at his feet under complete control.
Additionally, his goal?scoring record is second to none. He just completed the most productive calendar year ever, scoring 91 times for club and country in 2012, breaking Gerd Mueller’s 40 year?old record.
Messi’s club team, Barcelona, is considered one of the greatest teams of all time, winning five La Liga and three Champions League titles since his first?team debut in 2004. This, coupled with Messi’s superior goal?scoring prowess, led many to see Messi as the clearly superior player. However, the answer is not so easy.
Messi has played the entirety of his career with the two gems of Spain’s golden generation of soccer, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. These two all?time great attacking midfielders can be largely credited with Barcelona’s unparalleled success over the past 10 years. Their surgical delivery and mutual understanding have been at the source of many Messi goals over the years.
So, here’s the question: Is Barcelona one of the greatest teams of all time because of Messi, or should its other core players be given more credit?
Obviously the answer lies somewhere in between, but Messi’s international achievements compared to Xavi’s and Iniesta’s help make a strong case for his great teammates. Don’t believe it? Messi has averaged 0.86 goals per game at Barcelona, while only averaging 0.40 goals per game playing for Argentina. He has scored just one goal in two World Cups, a meaningless sixth in a 6?0 victory against Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. Meanwhile, his Spanish teammates won the last three major world tournaments (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012).
By no means do these facts discredit Messi’s achievements at Barcelona, especially since Ronaldo has a similarly disappointing goal record with Portugal.
At the moment, Messi probably holds a slight edge over Ronaldo. But there are certainly those who disagree and have plenty of arguments to back that viewpoint up. With the World Cup one year away, a memorable performance from either would likely sway the title of greatest in the world in his favor.
However as Cristiano once said, it’s like trying to “compare a Ferrari with a Porsche.” Personally, I’d be happy with either.
Jason Schneiderman is a sophomore who is majoring in quantitative economics and computer science. He can be reached at Jason.Schneiderman@tufts.edu.