When it comes to football talk, there is one question that is bound to split the group of football fans in two. The question without an answer, the question that we failed to answer for years, and will most likely be unable to do so for years to come. We are of course talking about the Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo rivalry and the burning question of who is the better football player.
Comparing two of the best players in the history of football is always a tough task. The first thing we need to figure out is where to even start, what to compare.
While we could go and compare the rough data of two players against each other, this, while seeming like a good way to approach this issue, wouldn’t give us the real answer to the question. And even then, what do we compare? Titles, goals, assists, minutes played, bookings, speed… there are countless comparisons we can make, and yet the answer will end up being subjective instead of objective. Nonetheless, let’s look, Messi and Ronaldo, the key arguments we can make for each, and ultimately try to answer the question, who is the best.
Solely comparing the EPA value, Messi is the better player
As weird as it may seem, Messi is the better player looking solely at statistics both players have to their name. Some may even argue Messi is more valuable to Barcelona that Ronaldo ever was to the teams he played in. This may seem like a bias opinion, however, the information was taken from a respectable site “The Economist”, who compared and rated goals from Messi and Ronaldo based on their importance and context. This stat is also called the EPA or Expected Points Added, which rates goals by their added win probability. In other words, it basically tells us how important the goals they scored were to the game in which the goals were scored. For example, a game-winning goal scored in the last minute has much higher EPA value than a goal scored when your team is already 5 goals up. Ronaldo ended up with EPA of 50.4, Messi’s EPA on the other side stands at 59.5.
Ronaldo is a more athletic and dynamic player
Looking at football nowadays, players are faster, more athletic and better build compared to years ago. When we are looking at a prime example of a perfectly built player, we simply cannot look past Ronaldo. His athleticism, speed, his body type and his built overall is a huge part of his successful career and a huge part of what makes him one of (if not the) best players. While we could argue Messi is more talented with the ball, he will never have the physical and technical abilities Ronaldo has solely due to his size. With 1.87m and 84km, Ronaldo is a machine who is very hard to push off the ball. Messi on the other side, while being exceptional with the ball will have a hard time facing strong and big defenders with his 1.70m and 72kg. Let’s not forget Ronaldo exceptional speed and NBA star-like jumping abilities. He truly is an exceptional athlete which is why he is considered to be one of the best.
Messi is the better team player
This might come off as a biased opinion and while it may be, there seems to be some truth behind it. Messi is not only a player capable of scoring incredible goals, but he is also known to be an exceptional playmaker, which also makes him an exceptional passer. It was said that Messi makes everyone around him a better player, which can also be said for Ronaldo and his leadership, however, Messi does the same thing with a ball. While Ronaldo is a goal-scoring machine who will step up and score a goal when his team needs it, Messi does not only have more assists to his name compared to Ronaldo but is also known to use his football vision to keep his teammates involved and ultimately makes them better.
Ronaldo has better results on the international level
One of the biggest arguments we tend to hear from people who disagree with the statement that Messi is one of the best football players who ever lived. While being an exceptional player in Barcelona, Messi never achieved glory with Argentina. For some, the so-called best players should be able to carry their teams on the international level as well, which is something Messi failed to do. Not only has Messi failed to win the World Cup, he never won an International trophy, ever. Ronaldo on the other side played a crucial role in Portugal’s title of European Champions in 2016. Unlike in any other sports, international achievements are ranked very highly, and by some considered the ultimate glory. Maradona and Pele are considered to be the best of their time because they won the World Cup, Messi on the other side… still waits for that day to come. He was, however, close in 2004, when Argentina lost to Germany in the finals in overtime.
Messi has better statistic compared to Ronaldo
This is a strong argument, as it’s made of hard facts instead of subjective opinions. While solely comparing the numbers is not, and should not be the decisive factor when it comes to deciding who is the best, the numbers are still in Messi’s favour. While it’s Ronaldo who has scored more goals (663-685) in his career, we must take into consideration he has more games played (811-957). In addition, Messi leads Ronaldo in assists (274-219), which only proves the previously made statement of him being a better team player. As it stands now, Messi is the better player goals and assists wise, as it all points towards him catching up to Ronaldo in goals by the end of his career.
Messi has a better “supporting cast”
This argument comes up when the comparison between the two players touches the number of titles won by both players. Fans supporting Ronaldo tend to make a statement Messi did not win more titles because he is a better player, but because he is playing in a better team. This, of course, goes back to days when Ronaldo played for Real Madrid. While it would be silly saying Real Madrid are a bad team, there is some truth in saying Barcelona players know each other much better than Real Madrid players know each other. This all comes down to the fact most of Barcelona team consists of players who played together in youth teams, which understandably made them more comfortable playing with each other.
There are some solid points made for each player, nonetheless, the final answer of who is better is still far from our reach. While it’s true, Messi is statistically the better player, but he still fails to perform on the grand stage of international football. On the other side, Ronaldo thrives in such situations which is why he could be considered to be a more valuable and better player. If we draw a conclusion, the two players are just not suited to be compared to each other. While both are football players, strikers, and both of a similar age, there are just too many differences between them to decide who the best footballer is. To put it in other words, Ronaldo is like Kobe Bryant, who singlehandedly carried Lakers to NBA title, while Messi is like Scottie Pippen, who helped Jordan to his legendary status while making himself one of the best that ever lived at the same time.
Who of the two is better will once again fall into the grey zone, where subjective opinions prevail, which is only fair as there is no objectively right answer?
Sports journalist, content writer and passionate football lover.