Lionel Messi Cristiano Ronaldo Barcelona Juventus

'Messi vs Ronaldo debate is not even close' - Barcelona superstar is the 'best player ever', says Lineker

The eternal debate over who is the greater player between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo "is not even close", according to Gary Lineker, who has described the Barcelona superstar as the "best ever".

Messi and Ronaldo have undoubtedly been the two standout players of their generation, picking up a staggering 11 Ballon d'Or awards between them over the past 12 years.

The former, who has spent his entire career at Barca, won a record-breaking sixth Golden Ball in 2019, and has shown no signs of slowing down despite approaching his 33rd birthday.

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Ronaldo, 35, meanwhile, has enjoyed success at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus, while ensuring his longevity at the highest level by transforming himself from an all-action winger into a more traditional centre-forward.

Both men have won multiple league titles and European Cups, setting unprecedented new records in terms of goals and assists in the process, but Lineker believes Ronaldo pales in comparison to his old adversary in terms of overall ability.

"People get very tribal in all sorts of ways in life, and Messi versus Ronaldo is one of them," the ex-Barcelona striker told BBC Sport.

"Often the choice seems to come down to whether you support Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus or whoever, which is fine - I understand that.

"I am a huge fan of Ronaldo too, but if you're talking about the best player ever, there shouldn't even be a debate that it is Messi. That's just my opinion, but it's not even close for me."

Lionel Messi Barcelona

Lineker went on to dismiss the argument that Ronaldo's achievements outweigh Messi's due to his exploits in three different major leagues, adding: "Messi has obviously played in some great teams during his time there but, whoever has been alongside him, his amazing numbers have carried on exactly the same.

"He has proved the doubters wrong, time and time again.

"Even for the past couple of seasons, when the Barca team has not been anything like as strong as it was in the past, his contribution has not dipped. In fact, they have been a real mess without him.

"It's rare for any player to stay with one club now, in the way Messi has with Barcelona, let alone someone who moved there from a different country like he did when he left Argentina for Spain, aged 13.

"But, if he had left for any reason, Messi would have been accused of being disloyal. He cannot win, basically.

"And why would he want to move anyway? He started with one of the greatest clubs in world football.

"Leave Barca and you only move sideways at best. You are never going to move up."