Who’s Better, Ronaldo or Messi?
Somewhere in the last decade, it was joked that Lionel Messi was the third coming of Christ. It was said that he moved the ball so skillfully, his feet moved so quickly, his shot so effortless, and his field vision unparalleled that there never was and never will be another player better than him. And suddenly, Cristiano Ronaldo burst into the European soccer scene, taking markets by storm. He was handsome, he was charismatic, he was a God on the field, playing next to mere mortals. And while it is unlikely he will amass the same amount of trophies as Lionel Messi has, Ronaldo has displayed that his skill level is equal to the great Messi, if not better. But while the people of Catalan will defend Messi until they die, and women around the world will blindly cheer for Ronaldo, only one thing determines who’s better: my favorite thing in this world, sports stats. Let’s go to the books, shall we?
Given that Messi and Ronaldo play for two of the most successful European teams of all time, it is safe to assume they will play an inordinately large amount of games, given that they have always gone to the Champions League, and often deep into the final rounds, as well as obvious success in the Copa del Rey, along with their usual 31 league games played in the Spanish first division. Add onto that the amount of games they have played for their respective countries, in World Cup, and continental tournaments, and that’s a lot of games and stats to keep track of. So, we’re going to down the list, one by one, analyzing league stats, European cup stats, and eventually, international stats, concluding with a comparison of Ballon d’Or wins for each player.
In terms of all-time La Liga stats, Lionel Messi has played in 359 games, tallying 129 assists and 321 goals. Cristiano Ronaldo has played in 468 games, notching 117 assists and 357 goals. Some obvious things that can be extracted from this information is the fact that Ronaldo has played in 114 more games than Messi, and has only had 26 more goals, along with 12 fewer assists. Is this to say that if Messi were to have played those 114 games that Ronaldo has in hand, he would have the same, if not better stats? Probably, but there’s not guarantee.
Onto European cup numbers. In 79 appearances, Messi has 31 assists and 59 goals compared to Ronaldo’s 81 appearances with 14 assists and 46 goals. In this metric, it is clear to see Messi has the upper hand, leading in both goals and assists while having played two fewer games. So currently the score sits at a tentative 1-1, but some could interpret it as 2-0 in favor of Messi.
Moving on to international numbers, in 113 caps,(the terminology for international soccer games)Messi has 57 goals and 38 assists. Conversely, in 136 caps, Ronaldo has 68 goals and 23 assists. Once again, just to put the obvious analysis out in the open, that would mean that in 23 fewer caps, Messi has 15 more assists and 11 fewer goals. This one is closer than European cup stats, but Messi’s 15 assist lead in 23 fewer games neutralizes the 11 goal deficit. This would give Messi a 3-0 score against Ronaldo when analyzing each player’s numbers.
But, the real kicker is who has won more Ballon d’Ors. Each Ballon d’Or will count as one point in our recently made up scoring metric, so let’s count them up. Unfortunately for Cristiano, even counting his win in 2016 would still put him behind Messi by two wins. This gives us a final score of 8-2 in favor of Messi. However, I do have to admit I’ve been withholding a minor fact from you all. Messi has had a considerable advantage over Ronaldo almost their entire careers. I made this argument in my article on Steve Mason, which you should read by the way if you haven’t(shameless advertisement), the idea that a player who is so central to a team’s play that it would be unfair to judge their career based solely on their play, especially if they were one of the few reasons for team success in the duration of their time playing. A good metric to observe the pickle Ronaldo has been in is to note that in the last 10 years, Real Madrid, the team Ronaldo plays for, has won the Champions League twice, compared to Messi and Barcelona’s three times. Ronaldo also has, for a long time, been one of the only bright spots on Portugal’s national team, essentially putting his entire team on his back in last year’s European Cup and leading them to his and Portugal’s first international trophy. Ronaldo also is Portugal’s all-time leading scorer with 68 goals and has the most caps with 136. It is clear that Ronaldo has not been given a winning atmosphere around him year in and year out like Messi has had almost his entire career.
While it is safe to say Messi’s international career is not as illustrious as he would like it to be, his time spent at Barcelona has certainly been star-studded. Messi has played with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Carlos Puyol, some of the greatest Spanish players in the last 40 years, if ever. And that isn’t even considering the players he has been lucky enough to play with recently. When a team’s front three consists of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar Santos, it is almost impossible not to have your goal and assist numbers explode. Add to that world class players such as Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Samuel Umtiti, and Jordi Alba, and it is almost impossible for Messi not to pad his stats whenever he really wants to.
But the one thing that really separates Ronaldo and Messi is the fact that they are very different players. As is noticeable from their numbers, Ronaldo scores a lot of goals, and Messi tallies a lot of assists(and goals, but let’s ignore that for now). In a straight comparison of play styles, it would be impossible to juxtapose the two. I hate to quote everyone’s father when asked to compare to uncomparable things, but it really would be like comparing apples to oranges. But, since that obviously isn’t why anyone would read this article, Messi is the clear winner in this contest. In 158 fewer games, Messi has had 34 more assists and 37 fewer goals. If Messi were to play those 158 games, there is no question he blows Ronaldo’s career totals out of the water. And so the age old question is answered. Ronaldo made an excellent case, but it is pretty clear. Messi is the greatest soccer player of all time.