New perspective on football's greatest debate - Messi or Ronaldo?
Soccer Football – La Liga Santander – Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona – Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain – December 23, 2017 Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo helps Barcelona’s Lionel Messi get back to his feet [REUTERS/Sergio Perez]

It’s football’s perennial debate: who is the greatest out of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Juventus forward Ronaldo continues to defy his 36 years with his remarkable performances in Italy and has scored 23 goals in 25 games this season.

The Portugal icon is arguably enjoying a better season than his long-term rival Messi, who is lagging behind with 17 goals in 27 games for Barcelona.

But the intricacies of the debate are what make it so compelling, with every aspect of the two footballing legends examined to the minute detail in order to reach a verdict.

Messi has proved himself the more creative of the two players over the years due to his sublime passing ability and slightly deeper role. As such, the Argentine has seven assists to his name this season and Ronaldo only has three.

No one can dispute Ronaldo’s lethality in front of goal, though, as the Portugal icon became the highest scorer in football history in January.

Alongside goal and assist totals, dribbling ability and physicality are among the myriad of things to be taken into account when comparing Messi and Ronaldo.

The different emphasis players and pundits place on each of these factors has led to a variety of verdicts being reached.

In the case of former Germany defender Arne Friedrich, Messi just about edges the debate because he is harder to go up against one-on-one.

New perspective on football's greatest debate - Messi or Ronaldo?
Soccer Football – Champions League – Group G – FC Barcelona v Juventus – Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain – December 8, 2020 Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo with FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi before the match [REUTERS/Albert Gea]

“I was able to play against both Messi and Ronaldo,” Friedrich – who won 81 caps for his country – told Goal and Spox.

“If I had to commit myself to one, it would be Messi. He has a different centre of gravity, Ronaldo is more my size.

“Both are at the same level, but Messi was harder to defend for me because he had a different style of play.”

While Friedrich is largely on the fence, Gary Lineker takes a hard line on the Messi-Ronaldo debate and insists there should be “no comparison” between the pair.

“He plays the game in a way the rest of us are not familiar with,” the Match of the Day presenter told talkSPORT in 2019.

“I watch a lot of football, and people pine on this whole Messi versus Ronaldo debate; there’s no comparison for me.

“Messi is on a different level to everybody else, it’s as simple as that. People say to me what about Ronaldo’s goalscoring record and so forth?

“But I say to them have you seen Messi pass a football? Have you seen him dribble towards goal?”

Former Chelsea midfielder and manager Frank Lampard echoed Lineker’s comments, saying: “I’m going to go with Messi on this on pure, natural talent but what Ronaldo has done has been absolutely incredible.”

On the other side of the debate, there are many who claim Ronaldo’s superior goalscoring record tips the balance.

Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen subscribes to this philosophy and told BT Sport : “Goalscoring is the hardest art in football and [Ronaldo] makes it look so easy. Head, left foot, right foot.

“Messi is a decent header of a ball but if you’re looking at all-round players, you go head-to-head with Messi and Ronaldo, you’d say Ronaldo has a lot more different attributes let’s say.

“He’s probably always been quicker, right foot, left foot and header of a ball.

“I think Messi is outstanding in certain attributes but as an all-round physique, Ronaldo is such an all-round player.”

Finally, there are those who simply cannot separate Messi and Ronaldo.

New perspective on football's greatest debate - Messi or Ronaldo?
Nominees for the Best FIFA football player, Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi (R) and Real Madrid and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo (L) chat before taking their seats for The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony, on October 23, 2017 in London. [AFP PHOTO / Ben STANSALL]

Sir Alex Ferguson – the man who brought Ronaldo to Manchester United in 2003 – summed the debate up perfectly in 2015.

He highlighted Messi’s superior talent but declared Ronaldo is capable of doing things the Barcelona captain cannot.

“People say who is the best player in the world? And plenty of people quite rightly say Messi – you can’t dispute that opinion,” said the former Red Devils boss.

“But Ronaldo could play for Millwall, Queens Park Rangers, Doncaster Rovers… anyone, and score a hat-trick in a game. I’m not sure Messi could do it.

“Ronaldo’s got two feet, he’s quick, great in the air, he’s brave – Messi’s brave, of course. I think Messi’s a Barcelona player.”

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