A fierce debate has arisen over the last 15 years or so, regarding the rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Truth be told, it’s been a while since the high-tide of that rivalry, back in the days when the two genuine superstars wore the shirts of the two greatest clubs in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively.
Since Ronaldo left Madrid in 2018, playing three years for Juventus before enduring what turned out to have been a spell of woe back at Manchester United, it’s been largely the fans of the two players and the click-seeking media outlets who continue with the comparisons.
Two years before that, Ronaldo led Portugal to European glory and for many it was a sign of his superiority over Messi.
But the Argentinian has obviously turned the tables completely by now, first by leading his national side to the Copa America triumph last year, and finally, by lifting the biggest trophy of all, the World Cup. In addition to the record of seven Ballon d’Or awards over Ronaldo’s five, all the other records he’s broken and all the other individual accolades, there can be very little doubt that Messi has risen above Ronaldo and is likely to stay above him as long as the two of them still play.
Most football lovers around the globe will agree with the fact that Messi has achieved more than anyone else in the game and that he’s been the best player on the planet for a very long time. However, football changes with time, as do all things. The rules of the game are not the same as they were when, for example, Pele was winning his way to three World Cups, or in the days of Johann Cruyff, or Diego Armando Maradona. Many things have changed even since Zinedine Zidane, the Brazilian Ronaldo, or Ronaldinho, ruled the grass-covered surface, which doesn’t seem too long ago. The pace of the game is different these days too, as are the pitches on which the game is played; even the balls that are being kicked are designed differently.
The medical science has come a long way in the last couple of decades too, and it has obviously made an impact on the durability of players. It was not so long ago when players over 30 were considered well past it. But at the age of 35, Messi is still at the peak of his powers. Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema also rose to the heights of the last few seasons well in their thirties. Ronaldo is 37, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is 41 and still playing for a top club in a top league.
All these things make it practically impossible to name this player or that as the greatest of all time. All reasoning is relative when comparing the best of different eras. The numbers of goals scored, assists laid on, appearances made, trophies or individual awards won, these are all pointless arguments in that respect. It’s hard enough to compare two players of the same era but of different styles, for example, as each is likely to fit a different idea of what his role on the pitch should be about.
This is Messi’s moment, his time, the peak of his glory which lasts like no other player did before, and it is enough. There is no real need to choose among different names of greatness. If one enjoys seeing Messi play, there’s no reason why they can’t enjoy Ronaldo too. The same goes for Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Lewandowski, Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah, Vinicius Junior, and so many others. And that’s just this era that we’re witnessing right now.
Enjoy the game as it is. Enjoy the talent and the quality which you’ve been blessed enough to see in your lifetime, never forget that there were great players before that, and never doubt that the future will bring new ones. Will there ever be another Messi? Of course not. All the more reason to enjoy his magic while it lasts.
The GOAT? He might as well be.
But for what it’s worth, leave all debate behind if you can, and just enjoy the game.