It’s become the talk of the terrace in recent years. You can go anywhere in the world these days and the only two names you’ll hear when you ask the question ‘who is the best player in the world?’, are the names Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. They’ve become household names. Two of the most ‘god-like’ footballers the world has ever seen. Each of them break records every other game and make it look easy. Two players that will, without a shadow of a doubt, be talked about for years on end after they finally decide to hang up their boots.
So, which one of them is the better one? Some say Messi, others say Ronaldo. Let’s learn a bit about them then…
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, the 28 year old from Portugal. As a boy, his dream was only one; to play football. For him, football ran in the family. His father was a kit man for the first team Ronaldo joined when he was just eight years old, Andorinha. After joining his local club Nacional in 1995 and enjoying success in his title campaign, Ronaldo was given a three day trial at Sporting Lisbon and was, inevitably, signed for an undisclosed fee. Ronaldo went on to become the first ever player to play for Sporting’s under 16, under 17, under 18 and B team. An amazing feat for a kid his age.
However, 15 year old Ronaldo was diagnosed with a condition known as ‘racing heart’ that was threatening to jeopardise his footballing career. He underwent successful surgery and returned to training just a few days later.
2002 saw Arsenal meet Ronaldo’s representatives. Also linked with Liverpool and even offered to Barcelona for less than the fee Manchester United would go on to pay for him in 2003. In 2003, Manchester United bought Ronaldo for £12.24 million and he became the first ever Portuguese player to be signed by United.
His United career got off to a slow start. Ten goals in all competitions in 2005 and voted FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year by the fans. A red card for his troubles against Manchester City, where he was sent off for kicking former United man Andy Cole. But in the years to come, Ronaldo was to light up the Premier League in spectacular fashion.
The season of 2006 saw Ronaldo score 23 goals, passing the 20 goal barrier for his first time, leading Manchester United to their first Premier League title in four years in the process. He won Barclays Player of the Month for two months in a row; November and December. He received a horde of honours, starting with PFA Players’ Player of the Year, PFA Fans Player of the Year and finishing with the FWA Footballer of the Year.
The floodgates opened for Ronaldo in 2007. He turned into a goal-machine. Finishing runner-up to Kaka in the Ballon d’Or and coming third in the FIFA World Player of the year award, Ronaldo finished on 42 goals in all competitions, in just 49 appearances. His performance in the 07/08 Champions League final against rivals Chelsea resulted in him being voted as Man of the Match.
2008, Ronald’Or was born. He’d finally got the award he’d been dreaming of. It was also the year that the rumours became rife that Ronaldo had expressed his desire to leave United, and surely enough, on the 26th of June 2009 Real Madrid signed Cristiano Ronaldo for a record-breaking fee of £80 million.
Since then, he hasn’t looked back. 180 games for Real Madrid, 183 goals. Ronaldo has established himself as one of the greatest players to have ever lived. His technique is perfect. His ‘weaker’ foot? He doesn’t have one. His strength is second to none and his pace leaves defenders five yards too short. His free kicks are out of this world. He jumps higher than any footballer I’ve seen. He makes the most absurd skill seem graceful. What’s scary? He’s not even a striker. Watching him makes you think ‘how is he that good?’.
“Ronaldo is better than George Best and Denis Law, who were two brilliant and great players in the history of United” – Johan Cruyff.
But he’s not the only one… this is where things get Messi.
Lionel Andres Messi, three years younger than Ronaldo. This Argentine has been a pain in the backside for Cristiano Ronaldo since his move to Real Madrid. But it hasn’t been easy for him.
Messi was born in Rosario, Argentina. His father worked in a steel factory and his mother was a part-time cleaner. At the age of five, Messi joined a team coached by his father; Grandoli FC. In 1995, the year where Ronaldo was to receive a trial at Sporting Lisbon, Messi moved to another local team called Newell’s Old Boys. Believe it or not, the team lost just one game in four years. A team that Lionel Messi was a part of.
Like Ronaldo, albeit at a younger age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. A player that was attracting interest from teams who weren’t ready to pay for his medical needs. Barcelona came knocking and were willing to pay for Messi’s treatment. Carles Rexach, Barcelona’s sporting director at the time, offered Messi his first ever contract, which wasn’t on paper, but a napkin. Rexach said he knew he should sign Messi as soon as he saw his skill and speed.
Lionel Messi made his first team debut in 2003 in a friendly against Porto, aged just 16.
2006 was the year that Messi became a regular for Barcelona’s first team, scoring 14 times in 26 matches, ironically, this was the same year that Ronaldo would make his mark in the Premier League. A year later, in 2007, Messi finished third behind Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or, and second in the FIFA World Player of the Year award, this time in front of Ronaldo.
In 2008, Messi was handed the famous number 10 shirt that belonged to Barcelona’s latest departure, Ronaldinho. Again, he came second in the FIFA World Player of the Year award, whilst Ronaldo would be busy celebrating his first Ballon d’Or. Ronaldo’s triumph however, was about to be cut short.
Messi finished the 08/09 season in style. Netting 38 times and notching up 18 assists. He won his first Copa del Rey on the 13th of May and then, two weeks later, he put Barcelona two-nil up against Manchester United in the Champions League final, which Barça won. Barcelona went on to win the UEFA Super Cup later that year. This effort saw him beat Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or award in 2009 and be labelled by manager Guardiola as the ‘best player in the world’.
From 2009 onwards, Messi has turned into a footballing ‘god’. Ballon d’Or winner in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012….that’s four. Four consecutive Ballon d’Or awards. Champions League top scorer 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. La Liga Player of the Year 2009, 2010 and 2011. UEFA Best Player in Europe award in 2011. He’s scored more than 40 goals every season since 2009. The list goes on. More recently, 91 goals in a calendar year, not many, in fact only one other player can boast of that. A phenomenal achievement, by a phenomenal player.
Lionel Messi isn’t as muscular as Ronaldo. He’s not too bothered about how he looks. Maybe his weaker foot isn’t as good as Ronaldo’s, but who needs to use their weaker foot when they can chip the keeper from four yards anyway? His free kicks are as good as Ronaldo’s. He glides past players like they’re not even there. Likening him to Maradona is a sin, he’s even better. Watching him play is unreal. All you can do is sit there with your mouth wide open and admire. He is every inch as good as Ronaldo, if not better.
“What Leo does is so incredible that I have to be careful not to stand still watching him make his moves” – Thierry Henry, when playing for Barcelona.
Messi vs Ronaldo
So, there it is, two inseparable players. You might say Messi, some may say Ronaldo. Who cares? As long as we get to watch two world-class players compete to outplay each other week in, week out, why can’t we just shake hands and enjoy two of the greatest players to have ever lived in the modern era?