The debate over who is better between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may never end even if one of them decides to end the argument by declaring one the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T). Emotions will always find his place whenever one is discussing football and anything related to the round leather game. So, no matter the stats that are available, no matter how critically one looks at them, no matter the basis, and no matter one integrity, it is extremely possible that a fan will come and rubbish everything on the altar of sentiment.
Still, our argument here is going to base solely on facts which in one way or the other reflect on what they do on the field of play and what they are capable of doing moving forward.
While attempting to settle this matter of who is the Greatest of All-time between these two, we have to start by dissecting them individually and then their contribution to their teams both club and country. In doing so, we have to, as a matter of courtesy, start with the reigning World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi.
Messi has won everything club football has to offer in Europe, Spain in particular. The 32-year-old Argentine forward has played in almost all the finals of the major football tournaments in the world. The only tournaments he has not played in the finals are the FIFA Confederation Cup and the FIFA under 17 World Cup.
The Success of Messi in Barcelona
Lionel Messi is always criticised for being a one-club man as he has been with Barcelona football club since he was 13-year-old. Since 2004 when he gained promotion to the senior team of the club, he has won a club-record 34 trophies, including ten La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles and six Copas del Rey.
Messi holds the records for most goals in La Liga (438), a La Liga and European league season (50), most hat-tricks in La Liga (36) and the UEFA Champions League (8), and most assists in La Liga (181). He has scored over 700 senior career goals for club and country.
There is always an argument that the Argentine footballer wouldn’t have achieved all these if he was not surrendered by some of the best players in the world; best players like Iniesta, Xavi and Neymar. But in the real sense of it, Messi kept his standard when Xavi left Barca in 2015, Neymar left Barca in 2017, and Iniesta left Barca in 2018. Beyond 2016, Messi has won the European golden shoe for 3 consecutive years – 2017, 2018 and 2019. Hence, Messi won the golden shoe in 2019 without all the players his critics said helped achieved all he has achieved.
The success of Messi in Argentina
Lionel Messi is always criticised for not doing much for the Argentina national team because he has failed to win a major tournament for the country. Those who have this opinion always forget to mention that Messi helped Argentina to win an Olympic Gold medal in football in 2008. He helped his country to win the FIFA Under 20 World Cup. Messi has also carried his country on his shoulder into the finals of FIFA World Cup in Brazil, 2014. He lost the tournament to Germany.
Besides that, Lionel Messi has carried his country on his shoulder to Copa América finals in three different occasions – 2007, 2015 and 2016. He has also taken his country to a third-place finish in the competition in 2019.
Honours of Messi with Club:
Messi in Barcelona
La Liga: 2004–05, 2005–06, 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2012–13, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2017–18, 2018–19
Copa del Rey: 2008–09, 2011–12, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18
Supercopa de España: 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018
UEFA Champions League: 2005–06, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2014–15
UEFA Super Cup: 2009, 2011, 2015
FIFA Club World Cup: 2009, 2011, 2015
Honours of Messi with Country
FIFA U-20 World Cup: 2005
Summer Olympics: 2008
Individual Honours of Messi
FIFA Ballon d’Or/Ballon d’Or: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019
FIFA World Cup Golden Ball: 2014
FIFA World Player of the Year: 2009
The Best FIFA Men’s Player: 2019.
European Golden Shoe: 2009–10, 2011–12, 2012–13, 2016–17, 2017–18, 2018–19
Copa América Golden Ball: 2015
UEFA Men’s Player of the Year Award: 2011, 2015
UEFA Club Footballer of the Year: 2009
UEFA Club Forward of the Year: 2009, 2019.
La Liga Best Player: 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2012–13, 2014–15
La Liga Best Forward: 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2012–13, 2014–15, 2015–16
Pichichi Trophy: 2009–10, 2011–12, 2012–13, 2016–17, 2017–18, 2018–19
FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball: 2009, 2011
FIFA Club World Cup Silver Ball: 2015
FIFA Club World Cup Final Most Valuable Player: 2009, 2011
FIFA World Youth Championship Golden Ball: 2005.
FIFA World Youth Championship Golden Shoe: 2005
IFFHS World’s Best Playmaker: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019
Olimpia de Plata (Argentine Footballer of the Year): 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017
Copa América Best Young Player: 2007
FIFPro Young World Player of the Year: 2006, 2007, 2008
Golden Boy (Young European Footballer of the Year): 2005
FIFA FIFPro World11: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
UEFA Team of the Year: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
La Liga Team of the Season: 2014–15, 2015–16
FIFA World Cup Dream Team: 2014
Copa América Dream Team: 2007, 2011, 2015, 2016
Argentine Football Assn. Team of All Time (published 2015)
Laureus World Sportsman of the Year: 2020
On and off the field, Cristiano Ronaldo is a complete athlete, celebrity and an influencer. The Portuguese forward has played in three out of the best leagues in the world – Premier League (Manchester United), Spanish La Liga (Real Madrid) and Italian Serie A (Juventus). In all those leagues, he has demonstrated that he is a winner and an indispensable figure even at 35-year-old.
Aside from football, Ronaldo is the most followed human being on social media and in 2020, he has become the highest-earning footballer in the world. He has made a mark in football that may never be erased in many generations to come.
So far, he has won 29 major trophies in his career, including six league titles, five UEFA Champions Leagues, one UEFA European Championship, and one UEFA Nations League. Ronaldo holds the records for the most goals scored in the UEFA Champions League (128), most hat-tricks in recorded history (56), joint-most hat-tricks in the UEFA Champions League (8), shared with Lionel Messi, most international goals by an active player (99) and the joint-most goals scored in the UEFA European Championship (9). He is the only player to score more than 60 goals in all competitions in 4 consecutive seasons. He is one of the few recorded players to have made over 1,000 professional career appearances and has scored over 700 senior career goals for club and country.
Ronaldo’s Honours with Clubs:
Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira: 2002
Premier League: 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09
FA Cup: 2003–04
Football League Cup: 2005–06, 2008–09
FA Community Shield: 2007
UEFA Champions League: 2007–08
FIFA Club World Cup: 2008
La Liga: 2011–12, 2016–17
Copa del Rey: 2010–11, 2013–14
Supercopa de España: 2012, 2017
UEFA Champions League: 2013–14, 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18
UEFA Super Cup: 2014, 2017
FIFA Club World Cup: 2014, 2016, 2017
Serie A: 2018–19
Supercoppa Italiana: 2018
Ronaldo’s Honours with Country:
UEFA European Championship: 2016
UEFA Nations League: 2018–19
Individual Honours of Ronaldo
FIFA Ballon d’Or/Ballon d’Or: 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017
FIFA World Player of the Year: 2008
FIFPro World Player of the Year: 2008
The Best FIFA Men’s Player: 2016, 2017
UEFA Best Player in Europe Award: 2014, 2016, 2017
UEFA Club Footballer of the Year: 2007–08
UEFA Club Forward of the Year: 2007–08
FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year: 2003–04, 2004–05
PFA Portuguese Player of the Year: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
European Golden Shoe: 2007–08, 2010–11, 2013–14, 2014–15
FIFA Puskás Award: 2009
FIFA FIFPro World11: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
UEFA Team of the Year: 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
UEFA Champions League Squad of the Season: 2013–14, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18, 2018–19
UEFA European Championship Team of the Tournament: 2004, 2012, 2016
UEFA European Championship Silver Boot: 2016
UEFA Ultimate Team of the Year (published 2017)
UEFA Nations League Finals Team of the Tournament: 2019
FIFA World Cup Dream Team: 2018
FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball: 2016
FIFA Club World Cup Silver Ball: 2008, 2014
PFA Young Player of the Year: 2006–07
PFA Players’ Player of the Year: 2006–07, 2007–08
Premier League Player of the Season: 2006–07, 2007–08
FWA Footballer of the Year: 2006–07, 2007–08
PFA Premier League Team of the Year: 2005–06, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09
Premier League Golden Boot: 2007–08
La Liga Best Player: 2013–14
La Liga Best Forward: 2013–14
La Liga Most Valuable Player: 2012–13
La Liga Team of the Season: 2013–14, 2014–15, 2015–16
UEFA La Liga Team of The Season: 2015–16, 2016–17
BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year: 2014
Serie A Most Valuable Player: 2018–19
Serie A Footballer of the Year: 2019
Serie A Team of the Year: 2018–19
Conclusion: Messi Vs Ronaldo, Who is Better?
Both players are just in their own league. But one thing that will continually be a stain on their G.O.A.T status is their inability to win the biggest price in football which is the FIFA World Cup. Lionel Messi came closest to winning it in 2014 when Argentina got to the finals but they met a more determined German team that snatched the glory from Messi.
Besides their individual honours, if you look at what they contribute to the teams they play in, Messi has an edge. For instance, in all the 718 appearances of Messi for Barcelona, he made 247 assists as against Ronaldo‘s 192 assists in 836 appearances for all the clubs he has played for (excluding friendly games).
Also, for Argentina national team, Lionel Messi has made 42 assists in 138 caps in all competitions including friendlies as against Ronaldo’s 28 assists in 164 appearances in all competitions including friendlies for Portugal.
Excluding club friendlies, Lionel Messi has made 856 appearances for club and country, scoring 697 career goals and making 289 assists. While Ronaldo has made a whopping 1000 appearances, scoring 725 career goals and made 220 assists.
So, if you do the mathematics by calculating the ratio of these overwhelming statistics and then place it side by side with their current ages, you will discover that Lionel Messi is a better player. This explains why he has won the Ballon d’Or 6 times as against Ronaldo’s 5 times win. And fortunately for Messi, he still has room to win it even more based on his age and consistency. Hence, our ‘Greatest Of All Time’ is Lionel Messi.