I was 11 years old when Messi lost the World Cup finals in 2014. The Argentinian team lost to Germany thanks to a late goal by Mario Götze in the 113th minute. My brother and I watched in horror as Götze scored; as huge Futbol Club (FC) Barcelona fans, we were hoping to see Messi lift the trophy. Messi had a great run in the World Cup that year, scoring four goals, winning the Golden Boot, and captaining his team through gruelling knockout matches against the likes of Belgium and the Netherlands. However, it wasn’t meant to be, and as the referee blew the whistle for full time, Messi could only look on at the World Cup trophy in agony.
Eight years later, Messi has finally achieved his biggest dream: to be crowned a world champion. His 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign was impressive, especially considering he’s 35 years old. He scored seven goals, gave three assists, and put on an overall magisterial display. With his World Cup victory, many fans and pundits claim that Messi has become the undisputed greatest player of all time, edging out his longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Others are more reluctant to make this bold claim and argue that Ronaldo’s achievements still place him at the top, so let’s take a look into their histories to see which story holds up.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s career trajectory
Ronaldo started off his career with Sporting Lisbon, making his first team debut at age 17 in 2002. After one season, in which he put on numerous dazzling displays, he was signed by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Ronaldo spent six years at United, scoring 118 goals in the process. The 2007–2008 season was particularly notable, with Manchester United winning the Premier League and Champions League. Ronaldo — who scored a header in the Champions League final — won his first Ballon d’Or, an award given to the best player of the year.
Ronaldo subsequently left United to join Real Madrid, spending nine seasons at the club and scoring a staggering 450 goals. At Madrid, he won the Champions League an additional four times, including a three-peat between 2016–2018, and four more Ballon d’Ors. After Madrid, Ronaldo played for Juventus, rejoined Manchester United for a season and a half, and recently signed for the Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr. Ronaldo overall has scored over 800 goals in his storied career.
Lionel Messi career trajectory
Messi’s career differs from Ronaldo’s. Before leaving in 2021, he spent his entire career at FC Barcelona. He rose to the first team in the 2004–2005 season, forming a partnership with Ronaldinho Gaúcho and scoring three goals. The following season, he won his first out of four Champions Leagues. Between 2009–2012, Messi established himself as one of the world’s best players under the management of Pep Guardiola, winning two more Champions Leagues and four consecutive Ballon d’Ors. In the 2014–2015 season, Messi formed a formidable front with Neymar and Luiz Suarez, winning his fourth Champions League and fifth Ballon d’Or. Messi would win the Spanish League 10 times and Spanish Cup seven times during his tenure at Barcelona.
After joining Paris Saint-Germain in 2021, Messi won the French Cup in his first season. Messi overall has scored a phenomenal 793 goals and has given 350 assists in his career thus far.
Who is the better player?
In terms of club statistics, Messi and Ronaldo are neck and neck. Both have scored an unreal amount of goals, with Messi winning a remarkable seven Ballon d’Ors and Ronaldo winning a stunning five Champions League titles. Since they’re so close, many consider Messi’s World Cup triumph to serve as the tie breaker. Ronaldo has also experienced international success, winning the Euro’s in 2016, yet football’s biggest prize still eludes him. Messi’s victory in Qatar sees him join the ranks of Pelé and Maradona as world champions, something which cannot be said for Ronaldo.
Many figures in football, such as manager Carlo Ancelotti, still refuse to concede that Messi is the greatest player of all time. I believe that these people are mistaken. If Messi wasn’t already better than Ronaldo, adding the World Cup to his trophy cabinet definitely ends the debate. I also believe that trophies and statistics should not be the only measures of a player’s greatness. It’s the intangibles that a player does on the field — the dribblings, passes, and movements — that are just as important. Watching Messi create magic on the field for over a decade has long since confirmed for me who is the better player. That’s why I don’t believe Messi needed the World Cup to be considered the best. He always has been.