Barcelona vs. Real Madrid on Saturday, the much-anticipated El Clasico, will revive one of soccer’s oldest arguments; Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?
Picking one over the other isn’t an apples and oranges debate. It’s more like trying to choose between fine wine or expensive sports cars. Everyone’s tastes are different.
The one thing most can agree upon is that Real Madrid’s Ronaldo, by way of Portugal, and Barcelona’s Messi, by way or Argentina, are the two best footballers in the world. Their respective club teams are rich and powerful and when either player has the ball at his feet they strike fear into the opposition.
Both are wing forwards and proven goal scorers who at any moment can produce a moment of brilliance that will be talked about for generations. But there are vast differences.
Ronaldo is bigger, stronger and faster. He creates most of his chances in wide areas but he has the physique and mentality to be a classic striker if need be. And for a so-called finesse player Ronaldo has the skill and desire to score goals with his head.
The 5-foot-7 Messi, for obvious reasons, will never dominate in the air. Instead, Messi’s strength is his deft touch and his ability to create in tight spaces. The ball at times appears to be glued to his left boot. Messi has the unique ability to avoid defenders with the ball at his feet and the vision to make the perfect pass at precisely the right time.
While Ronaldo can be a blur, the game seems to slow down for Messi, who also has the advantage of a more accomplished supporting cast at Barcelona. Most of Barca’s core players helped Spain with the European championship and the World Cup over a two-year span. Barcelona is essentially Spain’s national side plus Messi. It’s almost unfair.
Don’t feel badly for Ronaldo, however. He’s had high-profile teammates at Manchester United and now Madrid but Barcelona is Barcelona.
It shouldn’t be held against Messi that nearly every time he steps on the pitch his starting XI is better than the opponent’s starting XI. But imagine if Ronaldo and Messi traded places. Messi would still be world class but Barcelona with Ronaldo may not ever lose.
Ronaldo’s coach, Jose Mourinho, and his teammate, Kaka, have both said that Ronaldo gets the edge over Messi. You would hope they’d say that. Meanwhile, one of Messi’s former teammates, Thierry Henry, said two years ago that Ronaldo was the better player.
"I honestly understand why there are those who compare (Messi) to Maradona but I repeat: at least right now, Cristiano Ronaldo is the best,” Henry was quoted as saying. “In the future... we will see."
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The Messi-Maradona comparisons are inevitable but ultimately fall short because Maradona led Argentina to a World Cup title in 1986. Messi has had unprecedented domestic success in La Liga and Europe but he is missing that signature World Cup moment, much less a World Cup title.
Ronaldo, however, has played in a World Cup semifinal and suffered a disappointing 1-0 loss in the final to Greece on home soil in Euro 2004. Moreover, Ronaldo has achieved success in three different professional leagues: Portugal, England and Spain. Messi has proven to be untouchable in La Liga but it’s debatable whether the diminutive Argentine could survive in the Premier League.
Next month, the FIFA World Player of the Year will be announced. Messi and Ronaldo are both in the running for the award known as Ballon d'Or. You can’t go wrong with either guy. But if you had to pick one to start a team the choice is simple.
Messi is incredible but Ronaldo is better. And that’s saying something.