With El Classico fast approaching, the world of football will be watching this match with anticipation. Always a thrilling extravagance, Barcelona v Real Madrid is a game no football fan wants to miss – especially as it is a chance to see two of the best players in the world compete against each other; Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo. Who, out of these two forwards, should be crowned the definitive greatest footballer is always an on-going debate as is the speculation over their future.
Ronaldo had been constantly linked with a move back to his former club Manchester United, but he has recently signed a deal to keep him at Real Madrid until the end of his career, ending rumours about where his future lies. Messi, who’s contract runs out at Barcelona in 2018, is still continuously reported to be joining other big European clubs, but having spent his entire career at Barcelona, it would be a wrench to leave and one would imagine he will end up, like Ronaldo, ending his playing days at the Spanish giants. However, in the modern-day footballing world of Bosman rulings and contract ‘get-out-clauses’, football fans can still dream of one of these world-class players joining their team. Whether it became a reality or just a fantasy in your dream-team line up, between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, which player would you pick and why?
The two players have been competing against each other in La Liga since Ronaldo’s world record move from Manchester United to Real Madrid in 2009. In those seven years, Messi has scored 391 goals for Barcelona in 385 appearances and Ronaldo 376 goals in 363. That is an average of 1.01 goals per game for the Barca star and 1.03 for the Bernabeu hero – not much to choose from between the two in the striking department for their Spanish outfits, although Messi has steamed ahead in assisting goals with 149 to Ronaldo’s 105. So, would this suggest Messi is a better team player? Less selfish, yet still managing a goal per game for himself, or has he just got better players around him who can finish a defence splitting pass better than the attackers Ronaldo plays with? These questions are something to consider, although over 100 assists in still very impressive, Ronaldo has been accused of over playing and ‘going it alone’ with the ball too often when a team mate was better placed for a pass and possible goal attempt. However, one area the Real Madrid man cannot be criticised for is his heading ability and physicality to out-mussel opponents, especially in the air. Last season, Ronaldo scored 10 headed goals in all competitions whereas Messi only managed 2. On average the Portuguese star scores 1 header from every 7 goals he scores, the Argentine struggles to compete mainly because he is shorter in height, however, his small physique benefits him in other areas of his game…
I don’t think any football fan can deny that Messi is probably one of the greatest dribblers of the ball in the history of the game. When he runs at the opposition defence there is no one better at coming out the other side with the ball still stuck to his foot. His mazy fast runs make him a joy to watch – his smaller build is a big factor in his ability to do this. He can squeeze past the centre-backs easier and having a low centre of gravity enables him to move at speed, and of course, his natural skill to finish with a goal can bring anyone who loves football to their feet. Since adapting more of a centre-forward role rather than winger, Ronaldo tends to be more the receiver of a dribble from a team mate (and expertly finishes the pass with a goal) rather than being the dribbler himself. However, when he has played in the winger position in the past, his dribbling has been breath-taking and he has left defenders for dead on many occasions. It could be said that a Messi dribble is more elaborate with great trickery whereas Ronaldo’s may be described as explosive, using his pace more so to terrorise the defence.
One area where both these players specialise in is a dead ball situation. They each have their own exciting technique. Ronaldo can put terrifying force behind the ball, his great ability to strike the ball with such pace gives the goal keeper no chance of saving a shot on target. However, with more power than accuracy, he didn’t manage as many free-kick goals as Messi last season, but the ones he did score were net ripping with power to admire. Messi on the other hand prefers to strike a free-kick with more accuracy than force. His precision to place a ball for a stunning goal is equally breath-taking and incredible to watch.
Whilst on the subject of the dead ball, scoring penalties is something both players are superb at, but Ronaldo edges the stats. Since he joined Real Madrid and his rivalry with Messi began, his penalty conversion rate is 89.5%, whilst Messi’s percentage is 85, in both La Liga and the Champions League.
One last point to mention away from all the facts and figures, is if you could pick either Ronaldo or Messi to play for your team, would they fit into the fast-paced English league? No one would want to see either of them complete a mega-money transfer only to do a Fernando Torres or Di Maria and fail after a record move. It would seem Ronaldo has a significant edge on this subject having already played and overwhelmingly succeeded in the Premier League with Manchester United. There would be no doubt he would fit into any English team perfectly as he has the experience of our quick tactical play in this country. Messi, who I am sure as one of the best players in the world would adjust impeccably to the Premier League and do incredibly well, has of course never encountered playing football in England and has only ever known one club. Given his ability, skill and all round world-class talent, it would be a risk of course worth taking, nevertheless, it’s still something to think about…
In conclusion, Ronaldo and Messi are very closely matched in all departments, one only slightly edging the other in some areas. It’s hard to separate them, it may come down to personal preference, do you prefer a more precise striker of the ball with skilful runs or maybe you like to see a powerful finish combined with strength and pace? Either way, all football fans in this era are privileged be witnessing two world-class players, in a world-class league playing out a world-class rivalry.