The superstar duo both scored in the first leg of the Supercopa Clasico on Thursday when the Catalan club were 3-2 winners, with the second leg to be contested at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Popescu, who played at Camp Nou for two seasons 1995 and 1997, has no doubt in his mind that Messi is a greater player than his Blancos adversary.
“You have to be a big Madrid fan to think Cristiano as better than Messi,” the ex-Romania international told AS. “Take away allegiance and there is no possible comparison between them.
“There is Messi and then there are others. Cristiano is a great player but does not have the quality to win a game that only Messi has.”
The former Tottenham defender was made club captain after his arrival from White Hart Lane at Camp Nou by Johan Cruyff, the Dutch coach who is credited for many of Barcelona’s modern footballing philosophies today.
“Yes and I did not believe it myself,” Popescu admitted. “I think that [Cruyff] took the armband from Guillermo Amor, who was a legend at Barca, to give it to me, who had just arrived.
“No one understood, not even me, but I've never been so proud as when I was captain of the club.
“If Cruyff had been a woman, I would have proposed every day!” the 44-year-old joked. “Nobody made me play with as much confidence as he did.”
Pep Guardiola’s impact on the fortunes of the Blaugrana have been heralded by many, and Popescu believes not even the now-revered coach himself could have expected he would succeed to such a level.
“I do not think even he imagined [so much success]” he added. “But you could tell he was a leader, a guy with a lot of character, who was born and raised in the club.”