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The great Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo debate

Not since the years between 1984, when Michel Platinti guided France to becoming European Champions, and the World Cup in 1986, when Diego Maradona single handedly lifted a limited Argentina side to the status of world champions, has such a division of opinion existed as to who was the best footballer on the planet.

Throughout the history of our wonderful game, there have been few occasions when two players have genuinely vied for the crown of the world’s greatest footballer.

The fact that one player craves that recognition, while the other appears completely indifferent to it, probably says much about the difference between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Over the last few years Messi and Ronaldo have ignited European football in a manner few can recall being bettered.

That Messi has won the Ballon D’Or three times already in his short career is testimony to the alchemy produced by a left foot capable of the sublime, bordering on impossible.

Ronaldo too has been bestowed the game’s ultimate individual crown in 2008, however since then it’s been Messi’s personal property.

From the pubs and bars to the chirping of Twitter, the debate rages. Who is the better player?

I’m not about to provide a definitive answer as to which player is the undisputed king.

I will merely add fuel to the fire and maybe outline the parameters that are needed to measure the level reached, the ultimate accomplishment achieved, for one to finally have the other kneel before him.

Magical Messi

The path of describing the wonderful ability that is possessed by Lionel Messi is a well-worn one. Even the most casual observer of the game over the last few years will be aware of his brilliance and the esteem he is held in. Many see Messi as the better player.

A conclusion easily reached when put into the perspective of the achievements of his club side Barcelona. But is it because of Messi or in spite of him that Barcelona are seen as the greatest club side of all time? The answer is somewhere in between.

The answer can also be attributed to two of the greatest attacking midfielders to grace the modern game: Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.

As a trio, their understanding, technique and execution means that Messi is often played into areas of the field where his speed, speed of thought and slight of surgical foot can be at their most devastating: Relentlessly, due to the greed and gusto with which his talented Barcelona team-mates dominate possession during 90 minutes.

An extraordinary team that helps make the player we know as Messi possible. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself if his Barcelona displays are replicated when playing for Argentina?

Here he draws frustrated criticism from the nation’s fervent football supporters who watch a god in Catalonia and his shadow in Buenos Aires.

This is also worth a second’s thought: What would the abilities of Ronaldo add to a team like Barcelona?

R7

Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t be more different from Messi. A typical hot blooded Iberian who, during the course of a game, wears his emotions on his sleeve for all to see like a captain’s armband.

It is his petulance, brooding demeanour and often visibly irritable state which some observers mark out as to why he is inferior to the placid, emotionless assassin that is Messi.

Where Ronaldo is frustrated by cumbersome mortal attempts to stop his super-human efforts, Messi simply gets up and carries on.

His temperament aside, there is a very strong case for Ronaldo’s footballing arsenal to be more potent than that of his Argentinean counterpart.

Possessing two feet to Messi’s one, his stealth without the ball is equalled with it. His dance is a more intricate one, displaying stepovers and flicks that have become his hallmark.

He has a basketballer’s leap allied to his six feet plus frame and uses both to good measure in the opponent’s penalty area, often demonstrating a bravery that betrays his metrosexual appearance.

In the hustle and bustle of a frantic Premier League and in the more technically astute La Liga, he has excelled, along the way developing a bespoke method of executing free-kicks that propels the ball in directions as difficult to predict as he is as a player.

Without Messi, Ronaldo wears the crown

Barcelona’s continued successes add to Messi’s accession. The head to heads help him too. Whenever Real Madrid and before them Manchester United faced Barcelona, the games have been reduced to which player of the two will win the day.

The spoils have generally gone to Barcelona, and hence also to Messi. Without reducing an amazing Real Madrid squad to a collection of journeymen, which they most certainly are not, the question again raises its head.

If Ronaldo wore the stripes of the Catalans and Messi the white of Madrid, would the outcomes we have witnessed, with the spoils going to Barca, be reversed? I very much think not.

Barcelona are the sum of their parts in a superior way to Madrid. They are rightly described as one of the best club sides the world has ever seen.

The special component parts of Ronaldo and Messi are simply interchangeable and without effect. Both football machines would function as they do if those parts were swapped.

As the current season unfolds their statistics are phenomenal. At the time of writing, Messi has netted 39 goals in 31 appearances with 13 assists in La Liga and overall he has scored 66 goals in 61 appearances, including six hat-tricks. Ronaldo has netted 40 goals in 32 games with 11 assists.

His overall tally stands at 63 goals in 59 appearances, with seven hat-tricks. Last season he notched 40 La Liga goals to Messi’s 31. Ronaldo also scored 40 goals in a season while a Manchester United player too. It’s all quite remarkable in the modern game.

Can one be conclusively described as being more of a talent than the other? Each raises the bar with their displays of brilliance and innovation. At present my answer is no.

What is certain is they are both players that can ultimately and singlehandedly change the course of a move, a game, a season. There are no other players that currently tick all of those boxes with such regularity.

Where do they rank?

There is one common thread that runs through the cloth of those players who, throughout history, are described as the greats.

Think of the greatest players of modern times and you see players that have manipulated and won World Cups. Very few, such as Cruff or Best, were never to own one of FIFA’s gold medals, but the rest can boast at least one.

For either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to join this illustrious list, surely the plateau of a World Cup must be dazzled by their talent.

Two attempts thus far have ended in failure.

As the mouth watering prospect of a Brazilian World Cup looms ever closer, could it be that the country whose football has been synonymous with the beautiful game provides the background for the crowning of its current most beautiful player?

That remains to be seen. Although surely, should either of these two once in a lifetime talents hold aloft the World Cup in Rio, this debate will cease to be one.

Ronaldo, Messi, it’s over to you.

By Jason Mckoy

Jason Mckoy is a UEFA qualified coach, sports fan, commentator and former player - who now runs Mercurial Sports, providing team wear, sports apparel and equipment to semi-professional football teams, amateur clubs and educational institutions, including colleges and universities.

Jason's career has taken him from playing for professional clubs' youth teams and semi-professionally, through to leading roles in sport development and education programmes for various companies, including FIFA recognised award-winning charities. To contact Jason, or for more information about Mercurial Sports, go to www.mercurialsports.com - you can also follow Jason on Twitter: @MercurialSports


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