Messi v Ronaldo: Are we any closer to settling the debate?
Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo is a question which seems to divide every football fan on earth. Both are undoubtedly amongst the best players of all time but at 29 and 32 years old respectively, are we any closer to finding out who is better of the pair? Real are closing in on a La Liga and Champions League double meaning that Barca will have to be content with just the Spanish Super Cup and the Copa del Rey should they win the final. Messi has outscored Ronaldo in all competitions but in Europe, the Portuguese star has fired Real to the brink of a third Champions League title in four seasons. These past twelve months have certainly gone in Ronaldo’s favour.
When Cristiano Ronaldo broke through at Sporting CP and eventually at Manchester United, it was clear that we were witnessing a potentially excellent young player. By the time Lionel Messi made his debut for FC Barcelona in October 2004, Ronaldo was already a starting player for both Manchester United and the Portuguese national team. Their formative years were spent very much in isolation of each other but it wasn’t long before they were forced to face off.
Ronaldo and Messi finally faced one another on the field in the 2008 Champions League and then again in the following season. The rivalry took a new form when Ronaldo moved to Spain with Real Madrid. The pair embodied, in many ways, the perceived differences between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Regardless of how much truth is in that, it has always been difficult to ignore the rivalry.
FC Barcelona were undoubtedly the dominant team during Messi’s early years. Eight La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns for the Argentinean star as he became the centre of a team which changed everything. Pep Guardiola and his later predecessors have brought about massive changes to European football which we are still feeling the effects of today. For many years, the contrasting successes of the two clubs have been linked to the contrasting fortunes of the two players in question. Ronaldo’s Real were style over substance while Messi’s Barca took football to new heights. In recent years, that has changed.
As FC Barcelona have struggled to cope with the absence of Guardiola and a few board members off the field, the players on it have also been hurt by the loss of Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol and Dani Alves. Compare that with Cristiano Ronaldo’s fortunes in the last three seasons and there’s little doubt that the Portuguese star has reigned supreme. His Portugal side won the European Championships (international success being the one thing which has evaded Lionel Messi) while Real secured La Decima, La Unedecima and soon perhaps, La Duodecima.
Fresh after La Liga success, it is Ronaldo’s Real side which has reached the final of the UEFA Champions League yet again. It’s the third time in four seasons that Los Blancos have got there but this one will be different. With Real as the designated away side, they won’t be able to wear their famous white kit against Juventus. Unfortunately for Real, white is by far the most successful colour (Source: Betway Insider) for teams in the European Cup with 23 sides lifting the trophy since 1955 wearing the colour. Ronaldo will still undoubtedly fancy his chances but it’s not exactly a good omen.
A third Champions League success would certainly play in Ronaldo’s favour. It’s undoubted that there has been a power shift in Spain with Real Madrid now the best team in the country. Manager Zinedine Zidane may not be playing with a similar style to Pep’s Barca at their best, but his Real side are incredibly efficient at winning football matches. Cristiano Ronaldo is key to that, especially in Europe. An incredible eight of his ten Champions League goals have come in the knockout rounds this season after hat-tricks against both Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich. Messi is still the top goalscorer in the competition but the vast majority of his came in the group stage.
With Real gunning for a double, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Cristiano Ronaldo has far outperformed Lionel Messi this season. Despite their relative success in La Liga, FC Barcelona are a bit of a mess right now. Manager Luis Enrique is stepping away and things certainly haven’t looked as settled for Barca at board level. They’re a top-heavy side with serious flaws and the fact that they finished three points behind Real in the league is nothing short of a Messi-inspired miracle. His presence was no more evident than in April’s El Clasico between the two sides but throughout the season, Messi’s performances have been the difference for FC Barcelona on so many occasions.
It’s been a strange season in the grand question of Ronaldo vs Messi. Ronaldo’s Real are on course for a league and European double while Messi’s Barca have been very much second best. However, both players have produced some of the best moments of their careers at hugely important times this season. This hasn’t been a Ronaldo-dominated season, neither has it been the same for Messi. 2016-17 and this era of football is only making it more difficult to answer the question of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.