Lionel Messi vs. Tom Brady: Who has had a better 'football' career?

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The Barcelona superstar and Patriots quarterback are both living legends — but which one has been more impressive in their sport?

Lionel Messi and Tom Brady are often considered the greatest of all time in their respective sports. Messi has won everything there is to win on the club level in soccer, while Brady has a handful of Super Bowl rings and can add one more on Sunday. Both have racked up unbelievable amounts of individual honors during their careers on their way to becoming living legends.

Although Brady is 10 years older than Messi, the New England Patriots quarterback got his career off to a later start than the Barcelona superstar. But for nearly two decades the two have been in the global spotlight and have only gotten better and better with no end point in sight.

Which player has accomplished more? Who has had more of an impact on their sport? Goal takes a closer look at who will go down in history with a more impressive career:

  1. Ballons d'Or/NFL MVP awards

    Messi - 5
    Brady - 2

    It may seem strange to even compare the two honors but allow us to explain... 

    Both the Ballon d'Or and the NFL MVP award are given to the best player in the sport over the year. Despite there being several more teams and players to choose from in soccer, the winner will most likely be someone who has carried his team deep into the Champions League. The NFL is much like the Champions League due to the fact it's a league comprised of the best teams and players in the world competing each week. Long story short, it's equally impressive to individually stand out from the rest in both soccer and the NFL.

    It's been a two-man race between Messi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon d'Or over the past 10 years, with the Argentine forward being named the world's best player a record-tying five times. The NFL seems to have more competition for its MVP award than the Ballon d'Or, as there have been seven different winners over the same span.

    But Brady was named MVP only twice during his 17-year career and Messi has won the Ballon d'Or five times over 13 years.

    Edge: Messi

  2. European Golden Shoes/Passing Touchdowns Leader

    Messi - 4
    Brady - 4

    Messi has led all players in Europe in scoring four times, while Brady has led the NFL in touchdown passes in four seasons. Messi has had to compete with thousands of players as Brady is up against only 31 other starting QBs each year. But don't let that fool you.

    We can partially credit Messi's goal-scoring totals to the fact Barcelona plays in La Liga, where the Blaugrana are consistently more talented than their opposition most weeks. Messi has had a list of all-time greats playing with him, with players like Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Neymar, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o and Luis Suarez sharing the attacking load and making the job a bit easier on the Argentine. 

    Brady, on the other hand, goes head to head with the best quarterbacks on the planet each week. He also has to face the top defensive players in the world every time he takes the field. On top of that, the talent around Brady has not always been world class. Aside from Randy Moss - who was seemingly past his prime when he joined New England in 2007 - and Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots QB has worked with a list of pass-catchers that is entirely underwhelming. It's telling that the first year Moss and Brady played together they set an NFL record for touchdowns by a duo.  

    Edge: Brady

  3. Champions League titles/Super Bowl wins

    Messi - 4
    Brady - 5

    The most realistic comparison of any soccer league in the world to the NFL is the Champions League. The top club competition pits Europe's top teams and players against each other each meeting, with 32 of the best teams in Europe making the group stage. The NFL doesn't have any competing leagues, which makes the 32-team league ultra competitive all season.

    Messi has led Barcelona to Champions League titles four times and Brady has a record five Super Bowl trophies to his name. The QB has a very good chance to add another ring against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.

    The fact Brady has won more championships in the NFL than Messi in the Champions League makes this category an easy one to decide.

    Edge: Brady

  4. La Liga titles/AFC East titles

    Messi - 8
    Brady - 15

    How can we compare a four-team NFL division to the 20-team Primera Division? That's a good question but hear us out...

    The 32-team NFL is divided up by eight divisions. Brady's Patriots have dominated the AFC East since he became their starting QB, which has given them an easy path to the playoffs almost every season. 

    La Liga may feature more teams, but recently it's been a two or three-team race between Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico for the title. With the top three in the table earning a Champions League berth, Barca is nearly a lock to play in Europe every year.

    But due to the poor play of opposing AFC East teams over the past 18 years and the fact Barcelona has to compete with Real Madrid for first place, it's more impressive for Messi to win La Liga than Brady to win his division.

    Edge: Messi

  5. Best individual season

    Messi - 73 goals (2011-12)
    Brady - 50 TDs, 8 INT (2007)

    Now this is a tough one ... the numbers the two players put up during these seasons are extremely impressive but both of their teams fell short of major trophies. 

    Brady's 50 touchdown passes a decade ago stand as the second most during a season in NFL history. And his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio was extremely rare. In 2007, he was named to his first All-Pro team, earned a Pro Bowl nod and won the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards. The only thing missing was a Super Bowl.

    Messi scored 73 goals in all competitions for Barcelona during the 2011-12 season. He broke Pedro's record for scoring in six competitions, including a record 50 goals in La Liga and 14 in the Champions League. The 73 goals broke the record set by Gerhard Muller four decades earlier. The only downfall that year for Messi is his team finished second in La Liga and couldn't make it past the semfinals in the CL, despite topping Ronaldo for the Ballon d'Or.

    It'd be tough to not pick Messi considering the fact he broke Muller's record, while Brady fell short of Peyton Manning's TD mark by five.

    Edge: Messi

  6. Biggest clutch performance

    Messi - World Cup qualifying finale (2017)
    Brady - Super Bowl LI (2017)

    Trailing 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons, it looked like Brady and the Patriots were heading to an embarrassing loss. But you can never count out the four-time Super Bowl MVP ... Brady threw for two second-half touchdowns as he rallied the Pats to force overtime and eventually win on the opening drive of the extra period. He completed 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards, all of which are Super Bowl records, as the Patriots secured the biggest comeback victory in Super Bowl history.

    After announcing his international retirement following the 2016 Copa America, Messi stepped up to the plate when Argentina needed him most. With the World Cup not yet secured entering the final match of qualifying, the Rosario native scored a hat trick in a come-from-behind 3-1 win against Ecuador in Quito, where La Albiceleste hadn't won since 2001. Messi's three goals also made him the joint all-time leading scorer in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers with 21 goals.

    Both were remarkable, but Brady's comeback was extremely unlikely while Argentina was favored to beat Ecuador entering the match. 

    Edge: Brady

  7. Beating the odds

    Messi - Growth hormone deficiency
    Brady - Sixth-round draft pick

    At 11 years old, Messi learned he had a growth hormone deficiency and was forced to start an expensive treatment plan to get him bigger. But in a way, perhaps being smaller than the other children helped the young Messi develop the skills he has today. "I think being smaller than the rest allowed me to be a bit quicker and more agile, and that helped me when it came to playing football,” he said, according to the Telegraph. Luckily, Messi had enough skill for teams to look past his small stature and he was given an opportunity at hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before heading to Spain to join Barcelona's youth academy. He's now arguably the greatest soccer player of all time.

    While Messi was always considered a soccer phenom, it was a long shot for Brady to even make it to the NFL. After arriving at the University of Michigan in 1995, the California native was a backup for two seasons, completing only 15 passes during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Brady battled with Drew Henson for a starting job in his final two years and the two quarterbacks often rotated in and out during games. Brady, who had questionable athletic ability after running a 5.24 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, wasn't a highly rated player out of college and was taken by the Patriots with the 199th overall pick. He's now considered the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

    Messi always had the talent to make it as a professional. Brady was barely considered an NFL prospect at 22 years old.

    Edge: Brady

  8. The better 'football' player is...

    Tom Brady

    The Patriots star is going to retire as the greatest to ever play in the NFL, while soccer fans will continue to argue if Messi is better than Ronaldo, Pele and Diego Maradona long after his playing days are over.