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  • Dylan Intwala, AIT

Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo: Football's Greatest Ever Players

Even if you don’t watch professional soccer games, there’s a 95% chance that you’ll recognize either the name of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. And there’s good reason behind that; widely labeled as two of the greatest ever soccer players by pundits, former players, rival fans and much much more. But why are they known so well? And how have they changed the sport, forever?

Let’s start with their backgrounds. Lionel Messi, an Argentine, plays for the French club Paris Saint-Germain as well as the Argentina national team as winger/forward. But it was with FC Barcelona (Spain) where he really made his name. Coming onto the scene as a 16-year-old in 2003, fresh out of Barcelona's La Masia academy, he was sent right into the starting lineup by manager Frank Rijkaard. Messi and Barcelona won 4 trophies before Barcelona hired new head coach Pep Guardiola. Messi gained large popularity at Barcelona through his playstyle, with his short stature attributing to his incredible dribbling and agility skills. Despite his small size, he has excellent physical strength, which enables him to hold off larger opponents, and can maintain short, quick bursts of acceleration while keeping control of the ball. He is frequently noted as one of the best dribblers in the history of the sport, as well as one of the best free-kick takers in the world. In Pep’s first season, Leo Messi and Barcelona, led by Guardiola, won the treble, winning La Liga (Spain’s domestic league), the Copa del Rey (one of Spain’s domestic competition) and the UEFA Champions League. With Barcelona, Messi went on to win La Liga a further 7 times, the Copa del Rey 6 more times, the Supercopa de Espana (the other Spanish domestic competition) 8 times, the UEFA Champions League a total of 4 times, and the UEFA Super Cup 3 times. He also won the Ballon d’Or a record SIX times. The Ballon d’Or (French: the Golden Ball) is an award presented yearly by the French Football Federation to the best player of that year, usually decided by votes from players, managers, pundits, former players and more. With Argentina, Leo Messi has won the U-20 FIFA World Cup as well as the Copa America, the continent-wide competition of South America. After nearly 21 years at Barcelona, at both youth and senior levels, Lionel Messi left the Spanish club after financial complications, and joined French club Paris Saint-Germain in August of 2021. Messi finished his Barcelona stint with 672 goals in 778 appearances. Lionel Messi continues to pursue world records in football, including a record SIX Ballon d’Or awards, a record SIX European Golden Shoes, the most goals in La Liga (474), the most hat tricks (3 goals in one match) in La Liga (36), the most hat tricks in the Champions League (8), the most assists in La Liga history (192), the most assists in a La Liga season (21), the most assists in Copa America history (17), and the most international goals by a South American male (80). Messi also won the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2009, the Best FIFA Men’s Player award in 2019, the World Cup Golden Ball in 2014, La Liga’s Best Player Award 6 times, the Pichichi Award 8 times, the Argentine Footballer of the Year 12 times, and was included in the Ballon d’Or Dream Team in 2020.

On the other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo, from Portugal, currently plays for Manchester United (England) as a forward. As opposed to Leo Messi’s primarily one-club career, Ronaldo has switched his loyalty multiple times throughout his career. He started with a club in his home country, Sporting Club du Portugal, where he gained his popularity as an incredibly skilled, young, strong striker who had an ability to use both feet with high accuracy. At just age 18, Cristiano Ronaldo made a world-famous move to join Sir Alex Ferguson and world-beaters Manchester United in England. With Manchester United, Ronaldo won the Premier League (England’s domestic league) 3 times, the FA Cup (England’s domestic cup) once, the EFL Cup (England’s other domestic cup) twice and the Champions League once. After 3 successful seasons at Manchester United, Ronaldo acquired his dream move, relocating to the highly-successful and reputable Real Madrid C.F. of Spain (also Barcelona’s biggest rivals) for a world record $108.8 million. The most successful part of his career occurred with Real Madrid, winning La Liga 2 times, the Copa del Rey 2 times, the Supercopa de Espana 2 times, the Champions League 4 times, and the UEFA Super Cup 2 times. Ronaldo averaged a rate of more than 1 goal per game at Real Madrid, finding the back of the net 451 times in 438 competitive appearances. After 9 years at the Spanish giants, Ronaldo completed yet another move, this time to Italian giants Juventus, for a fee of $110 million. This transfer was the highest fee paid by an Italian club, and the highest ever fee for a player over 30 years old. Despite his ability and agility clearly fading to age, Ronaldo continued to manage his fitness and claimed the Serie A title (Italy’s domestic league) twice and the Coppa Italia (Italy’s domestic cup competition) twice. Ronaldo became the highest scoring Portuguese in Serie A, scoring a total of 101 times. In the 2021 summer transfer window, the same year that Messi made his shock move away from Barcelona, Ronaldo also shocked everyone by making an incredible move back to Manchester United in England, in a transfer window for the ages. So far, he scored a total of 7 times in 10 games in his return to Manchester United. As an individual, Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or 5 times, the World Player of the Year award once, the best FIFA Men’s Player twice, the European Golden Shoe 4 times, the FPF Portuguese Player of the Year 4 times, the PFA Players’ Player of the Year 2 times, the Premier League Player of the Season 2 times, the Premier League Golden Boot (highest scorer) once, La Liga’s Best Player award once, the Pichichi Award 3 times, and the Serie A Footballer of the Year 2 times. With Portugal, Ronaldo won the UEFA European Championship once, and the UEFA Nations League once.

Ronaldo and Messi are frequently noted as the two greatest players in the history of this sport, due to their monstrous effect on the pitch and their apparent ease of scoring and assisting goals. While both players were in Spain (Messi with Barcelona and Ronaldo with Real Madrid), they took part in many El Clasicos, any match that was contested between long-standing rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid. But, their time is clearly coming to an end. With Ronaldo aged 36 and Messi aged 34, both players are feeling age as an effect on their physicality and agility. This leaves a common question; what will happen to the sport after they retire? One thing is for sure, we are incredibly lucky to have witnessed two of the greatest of all time play the greatest sport in the world.


1.Treble = an instance where a team wins 3 of its domestic trophies. Most commonly, the requirements are one domestic league title, one dometic cup title, and the UEFA Champions League, the top-tier soccer competition of Europe.

2. UEFA Super Cup - A one-off match played in August between the winners of the Champions League and the winners of the Europa League (the second-tier European competition)

3. An award given to the leading goalscorer in domestic league matches from the top division of every European national league.

4. An award from Spanish newspaper Marca, given to the highest scorer of La Liga that season.

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