Ronaldo can win Euro 2016 AND the World Cup but Messi will still be number one

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal; Lionel Messi Argentina
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The Portuguese forward is on the brink of achieving a senior international title, something his Barcelona rival has never managed, but the Argentine will always be superior


The debate will run and run. Cristiano Ronaldo is one game away from winning Euro 2016 and if he does he will have achieved something even Lionel Messi has not: a major trophy with his national side. However, whatever happens on Sunday in Paris has no bearing on who is the better player. Because that is and always will be the Argentine.

In an editorial published on Thursday, Goal 's chief correspondent Peter Staunton argued that if Cristiano claims the trophy on Sunday, he will have had a greater career than the Barcelona forward . But that is simply not the case - not now, nor never. 

There is no doubt that Ronaldo is a phenomenon. The Portuguese is a man whose extraordinary dedication and ambition mean he is always seeking to improve and to do even better. And it is that desire that has seen him win countless trophies, both collectively and individually - including three Ballons d'Or.

Ronaldo is honest when asked about his objectives. "I want to become the best player ever," he has said on a number of occasions. The problem with that, however, is that he is not even the finest footballer of his era. Because that honour belongs to Messi.

Cristiano can win the Euros, he can claim another Ballon d'Or or perhaps more, but even if he were to win the World Cup with Portugal, he would still not be a better player than the Argentine attacker.

Messi is simply superior on every level. Ronaldo scores loads of goals? Yes, he does. But Messi has still scored more in the time the two have played in Spain. And although Cristiano can boast some spectacular efforts among those strikes, most are via a single touch, a thunderous drive, a prodigious leap - especially these days.

Pep Guardiola was once asked to describe Messi in words and said: "You can't - you have to watch him." And it is true. Look at Ronaldo's goals. Impressed? Great. Now look at Messi's goals. Then look back at Cristiano's after that. Still as impressed as you were before?

The same can be said for the assists. The Portuguese produces his fair share, but the assist he claimed against Wales on Wednesday was typical - a mishit shot redirected into the net by Nani. Ronaldo shoots so often that many of his efforts fail to hit the target and some find a team-mate in a better position. That's logical. Not all of them are that way, of course, but again his assists are fewer, less spectacular and usually far less difficult technically than Messi's.

That's why stats don't tell the whole story. Messi is much more than numbers and it is not the same thing to beat five players and score in a spectacular solo run than it is to hammer home from close range at the far post - even if both are ultimately worth the same. And it's the same with assists: a mesmerising run past three or four players before setting up a team-mate or a wonderful curling delivery from deep to take out several defenders is so much more difficult than a mere cross, a single pass or even a mishit shot.

But even if you measure the two in numbers, Messi is ahead. And in terms of trophies, he is well clear. While Ronaldo has claimed 17 titles at Manchester United and Real Madrid (nine and eight respectively), the Argentine has won 28 with Barcelona (including two trebles) and he is over two years younger than the Portuguese.

At international level, neither has achieved what many believe they should have. Messi, after helping Argentina to an Under-20 World Cup and an Olympic gold medal (with the U-23 team), has failed to add a title with the senior side - losing four finals (three Copas America and one World Cup) and calling time on his Argentina career after the latest disappointment in the Copa America Centenario when he missed a penalty in the shootout loss to Chile.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, lost out in the final at Euro 2004, fell again in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup and also in the last four at Euro 2012. He has come close, but was disappointing along with his team-mates in group-stage exit at Brazil 2014 and Sunday's showpiece in Paris is quite probably his last real shot at a major honour with his country.

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But even if he wins it and produces a match-winning performance at the Stade de France, that will not make him a finer footballer than Messi. The Argentine creates more than Cristiano, scores greater goals, is less selfish, dribbles better, possesses superior technique and passing, and is also on top when it comes to free-kicks now. Victory for Portugal in the Euros won't change any of that.

Football is all about opinions, of course, but it is fair to say that the only ones who believe Ronaldo to be better than Messi are either Portuguese, Real Madrid fans or (some) Manchester United supporters. Everyone else, including neutrals, thinks Messi is the number one. And that's because he is - whatever happens on Sunday.

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