“For more than ten years Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have marked a duel for history. Cristiano’s march to Saudi Arabia puts an end to it”, says a note from the newspaper Ace, from Madrid. The duel was really fabricated by the Madrid press when Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Real Madrid and Messi dazzled at Barcelona. He had to put a merengue figure on an equal footing with the Barça number 10 so as not to be left behind. In truth, such a fight never existed in football because there were no equivalences: there is no possible comparison between an extraordinary scorer and an extraordinary player, who is also a sensational scorer.
Messi is infinitely more technical and intelligent and, above all, more complete: he is a driver, a playmaker, breaks lines, assists and also thrashes. Cristiano scores. On the collective side, Messi is a team man, he plays for everyone, Cristiano needs -and demands- that the whole team play for him. And on an individual level, it is impossible to place Cristiano at the level of Messi’s ability, a brilliant dribbler and dominator of the ball, as well as possessing supernatural ingenuity for this sport. The fantastic Tostão places him on the same step as Pelé and, he says bluntly: “He is the best of the last fifty years.” An immense majority places it even above O King, like number one in history.
Obviously these are opinions, authorized, by the way, Tostão shared the team with Pelé, he is his compatriot, he considers him his idol. But, if we take the analysis to the statistical category, the differences are more abysmal: despite making his debut two years later, Messi is ahead of CR7 in almost all items. We do not consider the issue of the Ballon d’Or, in which Ronaldo received 5 statuettes and Messi has 7 (perhaps there will be 8 in 2023 for having won the World Cup as the star and for the excellent season at PSG). These types of distinctions are of valuation. Let’s get into coronations and numbers. To begin with, at the national team level Messi has been world youth, Olympic and world champion, three big trophies that are not in the Portuguese’s showcases and that already give Leo an indisputable superiority. In World Cups, Messi scored 13 goals against Ronaldo’s 7.
In terms of clubs, Messi has 11 league titles and 7 cups against Cristiano’s 7 and 4 and, in total, Leo has won 41 titles and Cris 34. In direct confrontations they came face to face 36 times, with 16 victories for Rosario and 11 for the one from Madeira. In those 36 matches, Messi scored 22 goals and distributed 12 assists, compared to 21 goals and a single goal pass served by CR7. They met only once for a Champions League final, in 2009, and Barcelona beat Manchester United 2-0, with a goal from Messi, the first.
In the nine years they shared in Spanish football, Messi won 6 league titles, 5 Copas del Rey and 5 Pichichis (top scorer). Ronaldo scored 2 leagues, 2 Copas del Rey and 3 Pichichis.
In the assists section, the Argentine has 352 compared to 247 for the Portuguese, although if we counted passes-goals, the difference would surely be monumental. Messi has prepared hundreds of goals that later his teammates missed. The Spanish tactical analyst Lorenzo Manchado has just uploaded a 40 minute and 35 second video on Twitter with all of Messi’s great passes from a single season…! A compact of almost 41 minutes of passes-goal in 2008-2009, something that seems impossible.
Cristiano leads Lionel by 26 goals: 819 to 793, but having played 142 more games. Surely, if Messi plays those 142 matches that he lacks, he would surpass it. In goal average, Messi is ahead: 0.79 out of 0.72. What is remarkable is that Leo reaches these fabulous records without being a clear striker. He started as a pure right winger, but was never from the area. Since 2009 Guardiola placed him as a false 9, that is, a late center forward, to join Iniesta and Xavi, and since Xavi’s departure he became a decidedly offensive midfielder and builder of attacking maneuvers with two or three men ahead.
However, this superiority in all orders is the game, the beauty of development. If we didn’t include that important aspect, football would be reduced to who pushed the ball into the net the most times and that’s it. But this is the greatest show in the world essentially for its aesthetic value. If not, what would we have left of Zidane, Michael Laudrup, Ronaldinho, Van Basten, Roberto Baggio, Ronaldo Nazario and many other artists with a lower track record, but who dazzled the crowds with their class and elegance? …? Even what would we remember about Beckenbauer if he had not been the most elegant defender of all time… Franz did not score goals, he is an immortal by class. In this field, Messi devastates Cristiano, an athlete who with a lot of will and determination achieved great goals. Leo is a virtuoso of control, of the pass (perhaps his supreme edge), of the dribble, of the feint, of the brake and the hitch. And all within an exceptional frontality. He always went straight to the goal, facing whoever they were.
Says Andrés Magri, director of the magazine Total soccer, from Colombia: “Messi is so good that he even boosted Cristiano himself. The Portuguese at the beginning of him had very discreet numbers. It was only until Leo’s appearance that CR began to demand himself. ‘Messi has made me a better player’, he once said”.
The rivalry, created externally, ends not because Ronaldo goes to Arabia but because he no longer gives him the rope to continue competing in the elite. He proved it at the World Cup, in which he was a figurehead and ended up losing the position. “Ronaldo was the biggest failure of the World Cup,” said Lothar Matthäus. At the antipode, Messi was champion and star. And it became clear at Manchester United, where he was also relegated to the bench and had to terminate the contract because he was not in the roles of coach Erik ten Hag. He was offered to all of Europe and nobody wanted him.
“Messi transformed his game as time went by. He knew how to notice that his personal conditions varied and he adapted his soccer to the new schemes and to his physical time. Cristiano has wanted to continue playing the same way without recognizing the changes that both football and himself have undergone”, correctly indicates Francisco B., a Colombian friend and copious consumer of international football. “Eighty percent of the world wanted Messi to be champion in Qatar for everything he has given to football. With the Portuguese there was no such consideration ”, adds Héctor P., an Argentine analyst.
When Messi left, Barcelona sank sportingly, when Cristiano left, Madrid continued to win normally. It was always said that Cristiano would play in the big leagues until he was 40 years old or as long as he wanted because he was a perfect gymnast. It was not like that because soccer requires more than showing off good abs, it is, above all, talent. Messi also lost the lightning speed he had at twenty, but made up for it with his razor-sharp vision of the game and at 35 he’s still king. (D)