It’s the long running cliché debate of our football generation, and it divides almost all of us into two camps: Ronaldo or Messi?
Both are undoubtedly two of the most gifted and hardworking players to have ever graced green turf, but we are obsessed with having a front runner, a clear winner.
Perhaps it’s the nature of football that compels us to behave this way. After all, we want to win titles and trophies, not masquerade our disappointment with the celebration of spectacle.
Despite all the number crunching and the endless reels of stunning solo goals, it can never be settled. It’s subjective, so we’ll be arguing long after their boots are hung up.
Cristiano Ronaldo the first player in history to score back-to-back hat-tricks in the Champions League KO stages.
⚽⚽⚽ Atletico pic.twitter.com/QkLeQFBQ30
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 2, 2017
It’s not the first of its kind; we have long heard fathers and grandfathers stake their claims as to whom wins the Pele vs Maradona battle.
At least with Messi and Ronaldo, we have them both playing in the same era, in the same division, in the same cups.
This often causes another debate within those who howl praise on the stars of the past. Was Pele better than Ronaldo? Was Messi as good as Maradona? Has he proved it at international level?
Again, an impossible task; we cannot contextualise the eras they played in and make them available for comparison. Realistically, we cannot evaluate the quality of the teams they played in, or played against, compared to the current crop. But what we can do, in Benitez-esque style, is talk about facts.
The history books will point to one salient piece of information, the trophies. The titles won will be the lasting legacy of these near superhuman giants.
Whilst both have trophy cabinets bigger than most living rooms, they also have a wealth of goalscoring awards to their name.
Their goal scoring tallies are ludicrous and should be heralded against their peers as proven merit. But, they both have had such a hand in shattering the pre-existing ones, that they make the benchmarks of thirty goals a season look unimpressively average.
Lionel Messi’s game by numbers vs. Real Madrid:
34 passes completed
6 fouls suffered
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 23, 2017
When times moves on and Messi and Ronaldo are more well known by their statues and legacy, it is possible that their records will be devalued.
Some statistics document Pele as having scored over a thousand goals. Do we think he would’ve managed this tally in the modern day Premier League? Probably not.
Dixie Dean managed sixty in a season, but would he have bagged more than Alan Shearer in the current era. Again, we’ll never know, but Dean isn’t celebrated as if he would’ve.
So in the 2062/63 season, we may have fans arguing whether Messi could’ve cut it in the new era of genetic footballer clones and robot referees.
But what the future cannot take away from the past, is the trophies. Pele’s three World Cups are still lauded and respected as if they were won yesterday. Liverpool’s first four European Cups were secured at a time when the volume of teams was drastically lower. Perhaps why no team has retained the Champions League in its current format.
Both Messi and Ronaldo have multiple Champions League trophies to their name and only one can add to their tally this season. Barring injury, Messi has a couple of years more to play than Ronaldo and could retain the lead if needed.
The only real separation between them in trophies is at international level. Just weeks apart, Messi would suffer a fourth consecutive final defeat with Argentina, his own spot kick saved in the shootout, whilst Ronaldo would make amends for his Euro 2004 home defeat, even if he was sidelined for most of it.
The defining difference between the two on these occasions was attitude. Ronaldo was hauled off early in the final after unsuccessfully trying to play on through injury. But for the entirety of the match, he was animated on the sidelines, encouraging his teammates.
Messi’s first reaction after losing his final was to announce his retirement, despite that he would still be in his prime at the next World Cup.
For Ronaldo, his slightly older age means he may not be at his peak in 2018, and Portugal would not have the quality of Argentina in their squad. Realistically, this was his last chance.
Again, in 2062, history will not recall attitude, nor the moth that took refuge upon Ronaldo’s nose. Trophies inscribe winners, not context.
Retrospectively, international titles may turn out to be all the future has to separate them and pick a winner.