By: Kwame Awuah
In our modern world where everyone is obsessed with ratings and knowing who is the best and at what, the question all football (soccer) fans always argue is: who is better? Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. For starters, let’s compare a bit of their basic statistics and honors. For Ronaldo, he is the taller, faster and stronger player. For Messi, his lower center of gravity and ball control are second to none. Cristiano’s on ball skills and his desire to run at defenders are impeccable. There is no doubt that Messi’s finishing and his passing ability are unmatched by any other player (and yes that includes the ‘Pass-masters’ Xavi and Iniesta). Lionel Messi has 3 Ballon D’or awards while Ronaldo has 1. They both have an extensive list of awards, individual accomplishments, and records that will take me all day to discuss if I were to start so I won’t.
Let’s pick a starting point to compare these 2 giants. How about the 2009-2010 season. I picked this season because it was Ronaldo’s first with the Whites and the season Messi won his first Ballon D’or (coincidentally also the first season he played with short hair and also the departure of Ronaldinho- we all know how much that meant for him). Since that season, Messi has scored 260 goals compared to Ronaldo’s 238 with Messi having almost 100 more official appearances. Take that how you want but to me, goals are not all that determine how effective a player is. A great player not only brings in the goals, but also means so much to his team that they are lost without him (just ask David Moyes and Manchester United). Being an avid football fan, I’ve watched Real Madrid and Barcelona play for years with and without their key players. The structure that Barcelona plays on is one that strongly leans on having key players on the field in order to penetrate these tough impregnable La Liga defenses. If you replace a Messi, Xavi, Busquets or even Pique with an inexperienced player, it always proves detrimental to the team. Case in point, when Barca played against Sociedad in early February, Tata Martino decided to play Marc Batra in place of the great diver Busquets on the right side of the field. This threw off the whole team as Sociedad just pounded away on that one side with no support from Pique or Dani Alves- we all know that man does not understand the concept of defense. Sociedad went on to win 3-1 scoring 2 goals in a five-minute spell. My point is even misplacing Batra for Busquets proved detrimental; imagine not having Messi play at all. Barca had one of their worst spells I’ve seen in a long time while Messi was out injured. There is no doubt that Messi is very important to that team.
With the Los Blancos, it’s quite the opposite; without Ronaldo (out on suspension for slapping a Bilbao player) recently the whites won all their games because players like Bale, Marcelo, and Benzema do not need other players in order to perform. Ronaldo is less valuable to Madrid than Messi is to Barcelona.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of who is the better player. Arguably, I thought Maradona was more valuable to Argentina than Pele was to Brazil and yet many consider Pele to be the best. But looking at it in terms of who is more valuable to their team, Messi is an amazing football architect who without him, his team is almost nothing. Like the great No. 10 Zidane said on losing Makelele: “It’s like putting a fresh coat of paint on the Rolls Royce when you are losing the whole engine.” Without an important player on a team, that team loses its identity and the player’s absence is felt. To me that’s what makes a player great.
Although Ronaldo does hold the record for being the best player, being the stronger, more agile, more aerial ability, I think Messi’s contribution to his team at the moment would make him the better player; the player I would start a team with.