I have watched soccer since I was 13 years old. Back then, I was naive to how the this game would impact my life and how it would become one of my greatest passions. As I became more and more enthralled by the game, I began to follow two players above all others: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both are among the sport’s greatest players, each forever changing soccer in many ways and inspiring the next generation of stars who attempt to follow in their footsteps. Discussing who is the best becomes complicated, so let’s see if I can boil it down to fewer than 900 words.
Messi is, in essence, a central-attacking midfielder who makes magic happen when a ball is put to his feet. He hails from Argentina, a country that has produced some of the world’s greatest fútbol players. He follows in the footsteps of the magnificent Diego Maradona, and when he plays for his home country, he plays alongside incredible players — including Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala. He also plays for F.C. Barcelona, one of the great fútbol clubs to exist. He was scouted by their legendary La Masia academy, and they molded him into the player he is today. He has won virtually everything a fútbol player could dream of — multiple Champions League cups, other league cups, titles and Ballon d’Or awards (created by the magazine French Football that is given to the greatest player of the year). However, he has never been able to translate his on-field brilliance into international hardware.
When he plays for the national team, he seems to be muted. He is surrounded by talented attacking players, yet never unlocks the magic he has when playing for Barcelona. In each international tournament that he’s played in, Messi hasn’t lived up to the performance level his country desires or what many think he’s capable of. In the 2018 World Cup, he scored a single goal and his team was knocked out by France in the quarter-finals (who went on to win the tournament). In the 2014 World Cup, the team made it to the finals yet couldn’t score against Germany’s machine-like team. In multiple Copa del Rey and Copa América tournaments, Messi and his compatriots have fallen short in the final stage. In 2016, Messi retired for brief period after his team embarrassingly lost in the Copa América final to Chile for a second time.
It’s like a curse follows Messi when he puts on the white and sky-blue striped jersey. But no curses seems to hinder rival superstar, Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has mimicked the same success story Messi has, winning nearly everything and, importantly, more. He has the same amount of Ballon d’Or awards as Messi, but has more Champions League cups and, most importantly for the argument, an international trophy. He lead his native Portugal team to a surprise Euro 2016 win, defeating France 1–0 in the second period of overtime. This was beyond unexpected. Although Portugal has Ronaldo, the squad they had that tournament didn’t come close to the star power on France, England, Germany and Spain’s teams. When Ronaldo won the Euro with Portugal, it was the country’s first-ever international trophy. Ronaldo will forever be in the minds of Portugal as their hero, the one who gave them a title. Messi, however, has never done that for Argentina.
When I debate with friends and family about the question of whether Messi or Ronaldo are better, this is the statistic I throw out as a sort of trump card. In all other regards, the two players are neck-and-neck. Messi has 646 all-time goals, and Ronaldo has 678. They each have the same amount of Ballon d’Or awards, five each, which is absolutely ludicrous — no other player has ever had that many. But Ronaldo has more Champions League cups, and he has more international trophies.
I once thought those metrics tipped the scales in Ronaldo’s favor. Yet as I have watched them throughout the years, my conviction for saying Ronaldo is the greatest has waned. Ronaldo’s magic has morphed into a form of brute strength and power, just pummeling teams into nothingness. Messi glides around the pitch, like a bird soaring through the clouds. When Messi plays, it’s poetry in motion, it’s *insert lofty metaphor*, and it’s everything you could ever want when watching the beautiful game.
They are both, in my opinion, two of the greatest players to ever play the game. They have progressed the game to new heights and will forever be remembered. As for which will be remembered as the best, I think it will be Messi, for he embodies the beautiful game. Ronaldo once did, but as of now, the one painting the canvas of fútbol is Messi.