Comparing legends: Messi v. Ronaldo

By Nick Carpenter


Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are two of the most dominant athletes in sports history in terms of the quality and time they have spent competing at the top level of European soccer. But which is better? This is the question most frequently asked by soccer fans, and it has long been debated because of the many accomplishments of both players. To truly see which player is better, I will analyze statistics of both players and teams they played in to finally settle the debate between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. 

First, some background. Ronaldo and Messi are both, obviously, soccer players. Ronaldo, hailing from the Portugese town of Funchal, is the pride of Portugal and arguably one of the most famous and influential celebrities in the world. Messi, on the other hand,  who was born in Rosario, Argentina, has a much less extensive celebrity presence.Ronaldo started his career playing for Sporting FC in the Portugese capital of Lisbon before transferring to Manchester United for a fee of $16 million, becoming at the time the most expensive teenager in history. 

Messi started his career at Newell’s Young Boy’s academy in Argentina before transferring to the Barcelona academy and rising through the ranks to become the club captain and all time leading goalscorer. 

Speaking of goals, these two are quite prolific at banging them in. Messi has scored 706 goals in all competitions since the beginning of his career in 2004. Ronaldo, on the other hand, has scored 718 goals since 2002. 

What also needs to be taken into account here is positioning and tactics. For the vast majority of his career, Messi has played as a right-winger, and his main goalscoring chances came from cutting in on his strong left foot. Ronaldo, on the other hand, has played across the forward line but was a left-winger for the majority of his career who cut inside on his right foot. Recently, however, Messi and Ronaldo have had to compensate for their aging bodies by playing more central roles, Messi as a false-9 center forward, or for non-soccer fans, a forward who drops deep to connect the midfield and attack, and Ronaldo as atrue striker. 

When you factor in assists as well, these statistics favor Messi, with the Argentine having 39 more assists than Ronaldo, 253 to Ronaldo’s 214. But what needs to be taken into account for these goal scoring statistics are their respective teammates.

For Messi and FC Barcelona, an astronomical $2 billion has been spent on players to bolster the team since Messi arrived in 2005. That is an average of $131 million per season since Messi’s arrival, among the most for European clubs. 

For Ronaldo and Real Madrid, $2.33 billion was spent on transfers during the Ronaldo era with an average of $145 million per year. Bear in mind that Ronaldo started his playing career many years before, and prices aren’t adjusted for inflation. 

Not factoring in statistics, Messi and Ronaldo have both had very iconic moments, from Ronaldo’s late free kick against Spain to tie up the match for Portugal to Messi with an outrageous free kick against Liverpool in the Champions League Semifinals. But which player has been more successful? Ronaldo has won five Balon D’Ors –– the top award in soccer –– and five champions leagues whereas Messi has won six Balon d’Ors and four champions leagues by comparison.

   So, who is better? To summarize statistics, Ronaldo is a slightly more prolific goalscorer while Messi is the better assister. Messi edges Ronaldo with 1 more Balon D’or, and Ronaldo edges Messi with one more champions league. Statistically, it is clear to see that it’s hard to compare the two. Now this is the opinion I believe should be taken. Both of them are fantastic players and the two greatest of all time, in my opinion, but they have played vastly different roles in their careers. Ronaldo has shifted from a creative left winger into an out and out striker whose key ability lies in his deadly finishing. Messi, on the other hand, utilizes his dribbling and agility to beat players while also being a class finisher. Nowadays the two are polar opposite forwards on the pitch with Messi creating chances for his teammates and Ronaldo focusing on finishing chances that are created for him by the likes of Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic, teammates at Juventus FC.   

   While the two are both world class talents, the two have different play styles and are different players. The two can not be fully compared due to the fact that their play styles and positioning are entirely different.