A serious discussion point on five-a-side pitches and barstools across the world, the issue of which player is the greatest of all time persists
The question of who is better between the Portuguese phenomenon and the empyrean Argentine has dominated the minds of football fans everywhere for the past decade and will persist into the future.
Club and national loyalties can cloud judgement on the matter, while personalities also play a part in how good a player is perceived to be, and most people know who they’d pick.
So who really is the greatest of all time? Never mind who you prefer, Goal has taken a look at how the pair actually shape up head-to-head so you can be fully armed with facts in the eternal argument.
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|Cristiano Ronaldo||Season||Lionel Messi|
Ronaldo has scored more club goals than Messi, but only just and it should be noted that the Juventus star benefits from having played two more seasons than his Argentine nemesis thus far.
Each of them has remarkably netted over 670 club goals in their career so far, with the five seasons between 2009-10 and 2014-15 proving particularly golden as they pushed each other to greater heights.
While Ronaldo currently has more goals overall, Messi has the edge in the scoring department, with a higher season average (39.5 to 35), having hit a high of 73 goals in 2011-12.
Ronaldo’s highest season return was 61, which he achieved in 2014-15 and he surpassed the 50-goal mark every season for six years between 2010-11 and 2015-16.
Interestingly, while Ronaldo’s seasonal totals have declined somewhat in recent years – he failed to break the 30-goal mark in 2018-19 during his first season at Juventus – Messi’s have remained consistent.
|Cristiano Ronaldo||Season||Lionel Messi|
When it comes to assists, Messi is much superior to Ronaldo and that contrast has become increasingly stark as their respective roles evolve.
The fact that Messi creates so many goals as well as scoring them is a major consideration when deciding which player is the GOAT and, while Ronaldo chips in with his fair share, the difference in this particular realm is clear.
|Cristiano Ronaldo||Champions League stat||Lionel Messi|
|0.76||Goals per game||0.81|
*As of Champions League games played in 2020-21.
Ronaldo is the all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League, having shone in the competition with Manchester United and Real Madrid in particular.
However, Messi isn’t far behind and actually has a fractionally better goal-per-game ratio, so there is a good chance that he could overtake the Juventus man if he continues to sparkle in the competition .
|Cristiano Ronaldo||World Cup stat||Lionel Messi|
|0.4||Goals per game||0.3|
When it comes to World Cups, Ronaldo and Messi are considered underperformers and probably with good reason.
Portugal star Ronaldo has scored more goals at the tournament and in fewer appearances, but Messi can claim to have gone furthest, having reached the final with Argentina in 2014. The Barca attacker won the Golden Ball during that tournament, despite missing out on the ultimate glory at the hands of Germany.
The furthest Ronaldo reached with Portugal was the Selecao’s run to the semi-final in 2006, when they were beaten by France before losing the third-place play-off against Germany.
|Cristiano Ronaldo||Stat||Lionel Messi|
|0.6||Goals per game||0.5|
Ronaldo and Messi have similar records at international level, though Ronaldo boasts greater numbers, partly because his senior Portugal career kicked off two years before Messi’s with Argentina.
Ronaldo is closing in on Ali Daei’s record of 109 international goals and could conceivably become the top international goalscorer of all time before he hangs up his boots.
Messi is a long way behind Ronaldo in that respect, though he is by some distance Argentina’s top goalscorer of all time, surpassing Gabriel Batistuta some years ago.
|Cristiano Ronaldo||Competition||Lionel Messi|
|1||European Championship / Copa America||0|
|4||Club World Cup||3|
*National Cups refers to the main national cup competition in a country only, e.g. the FA Cup, Copa del Rey etc.
Messi and Ronaldo have very similar trophy hauls, but Messi edges things when it comes to league titles, having won La Liga 10 times with Barcelona. Ronaldo has seven league titles, but unlike Messi, he can claim to have won the league in three different countries (England, Spain and Italy) – something that increases his claim to the GOAT crown in the eyes of some.
Ronaldo has an edge over Messi in the Champions League, his love affair with the competition earning him the moniker ‘Mr Champions League’. The former Manchester United star has also enjoyed notable success on the international stage, winning the European Championship and the UEFA Nations League.
Messi, on the other hand, has endured considerable heartache with Argentina, with four unsuccessful Copa America campaigns, three of which saw them lose in the final. While neither has won the World Cup, Messi has an Olympic gold medal.
|Cristiano Ronaldo||Award||Lionel Messi|
|2||The Best FIFA Men’s Player||1|
|4||European Golden Shoe||6|
|0||World Cup Golden Ball||1|
|4||UEFA Player of the Year||3|
|14||FIFPro World XI||14|
|4||Player of the Year (league)||6|
The individual battle between Ronaldo and Messi has been the defining feature of modern football for the past decade and more.
Messi went ahead of Ronaldo in the Ballon d’Or stakes when he won his sixth in 2019 and it looks likely that he will stay ahead, with the 2020 award cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the next chance Ronaldo has of winning is 2021, by which point he will be nearly 37.
Ronaldo does boast more of FIFA’s new ‘The Best’ awards and has been crowned UEFA Player of the Year on more occasions, but Messi has won more league Player of the Year accolades. Of course, it must be said that Ronaldo has won the Player of the Year award in England, Spain and Italy.
Messi has got his hands on the European Golden Shoe a record six times, which is two more than Ronaldo, and is marginally ahead of his rival overall, but the fact that both have been on the FIFPro World XI 14 times is an illustration of how closely fought the battle has been.