For the first time in his career, Cristiano Ronaldo was able to win a major tournament for his country, something that Lionel Messi has never done. And who knows if Messi will ever be able to bring a championship to Argentina after his most recent decision to retire from international football following Argentina’s loss to Chile in the Copa America finals. Another year, another chapter in the ongoing debate that is Messi vs. Ronaldo.
While Messi’s season was filled with injury, tax fraud, and heartbreak, Ronaldo put together one of the more successful years of his career. After winning the Champions League and the European Championship, he becomes one of just ten players to win a major tournament championship for their club and country. He joins the likes of Pele, Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer, Zindeine Zidane, Franco Baresi, Ruud Gullit, Gerd Muller, Michel Platini, and Marco van Basten. Sure Messi won the Copa del Rey and helped Barcelona finish atop the La Liga standings, but if you ask him I’m sure he would have rather won the Champions League and the Copa America.
To compare statistical seasons between these two is difficult because they both put up monster numbers; however, it looks as though Ronaldo had the edge last season. His 35 goals in league play placed him ahead of Messi (26) and only second to Luis Suarez (40), who put together the best season of his career. Barcelona exited the Champions League in the quarterfinals, while Real Madrid won the whole competition, making it difficult to compare Messi and Ronaldo’s statistics during the tournament. On the other hand, it doesn’t take rocket science to realize that Ronaldo’s 16 goals and four assists in 12 appearances was better than Messi’s six goals and one assist in seven appearances.
Messi got the best of Ronaldo in regards to major tournament statistics by scoring five goals and recording four assists in the Copa America, while Ronaldo had three goals and three assists in the European Championship. This can be a little misleading. First off, three of Messi’s five goals came during a group stage match against Panama. For those of you who are unaware, Panama is currently ranked 56th in FIFA’s World Ranking. Moreover, the Euros are regarded as a more competitive tournament than the Copa America. Some even say that they are tougher to win than the World Cup due to the parity of skill level between all teams. Just look at how teams like Iceland and Wales were able to put together historical runs. Whereas in the Copa America, the top teams are above and beyond the middle to bottom teams.
But didn’t Ronaldo have such an easy road to the championship game in this year’s Euros? Sure Ronaldo lucked out on the teams he faced leading up to the finals, but Messi and Argentina’s run was just as easy and probably a little easier. Portugal faced Iceland (ranked 34th in the world), Austria (10th), Hungary (20th), Croatia (T-27th), Poland (T-27th), Wales (26th), and France (17th) in the Euros giving them an average opponent ranking of 23. As for Argentina, they played Chile (5th), Panama (56th), Bolivia (82nd), Venezuela (77th), and USA (31st) giving them an average opponent ranking of 50.2. Obviously the FIFA World Rankings aren’t perfect, but there is a lot of criteria that goes into them and they are updated often. But that should prove you cannot criticize Ronaldo for his road to the Euro Finals because Messi and Argentina probably had an easier one.
Messi has and always will be a better passer than Ronaldo. His ability to sneak passes into the tightest of windows and find his teammates in great attack positions is what makes Messi so lethal. In all competitions this season, Messi had 23 assists, while Ronaldo tallied 15. While playing about 150 fewer games than Ronaldo is his career, Messi (214) still has put up more assists than Ronaldo (183).
After winning two major championships, one for his club and one for his country, and scoring 50+ goals for the six consecutive season, Ronaldo will be the favorite to win the Ballon d’Or award for this season. Assuming he does win, which he most likely will, it will be his third time winning the award in the past four years. However, Messi still holds the overall tally at four wins.
Ronaldo clearly had the better season than Messi this year, but where does that put us in deciding who is better? It’s tight, but I’ll give Ronaldo the slight advantage to this point. I think when you consider that Ronaldo spent six years at Manchester United before moving to Real Madrid, while Messi has spent his whole career at Barcelona, his accomplishments and statistics look a little more pristine. Not to mention we know Ronaldo can succeed in the Premier League, but there has been the age-old question of how Messi would fair in England, where the defense is assumed to be tougher than La Liga. It’s noteworthy to say that Messi is still two years younger than Ronaldo so he will have more time to add to his resume; however, Ronaldo has shown no signs of aging thus far. It’s interesting to debate who is the better of the two, but sometimes I prefer to just be thankful that we are able to witness two of the greatest soccer players in history.