by Amir Abdulazeez
There is one thing apiece that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi sympathizers are finding it difficult to contend with. There is also one other thing that the two of them cannot settle on. These are among the many reasons why the debate between who is the best player between them keeps getting controversial by the day.
Cristiano Ronaldo fans cannot believe that despite his out of the world, mind blowing performances over the last 10 years, there was still someone considered by many (other than those in their category) to be better than him and perhaps rightly so. Lionel Messi fans cannot believe that his super human and breath taking performances over the last 10 years, has not given him the absolute monopoly of global attention. That someone else is sharing the accolades and honours with him and apparently even threatening to have a larger share of them is what they can’t simply fathoms.
The other thing that both Messi and Ronaldo followers won’t understand is that rating one above the other doesn’t take anything away from the other’s greatness. Neither of them needs to be superior or inferior to any other player for him to cement a unique place for himself in the history of football. One more contentious issue is that neither Messi nor Ronaldo may be objectively considered as the greatest player of all time; although that debate would be better fruitful when they retire.
The modern football world’s obsession with Ronaldo and Messi seems to have affected many followers’ sense of memory and history. It may be possible that more than 70% of present day football followers were not born or old enough to follow football before 1990. For this category, who is the majority, no any other player in history was as good as Ronaldo and Messi, let alone surpasses them. Those who actually know what football was in the 1950s to 1980s may or may not be up to 10% and their voices are not often heard these days. Some 20% may not be that old, but they have enough knowledge of history, the problem is that we don’t often listen to them when they speak.
Except some miracle is going to happen in the remaining few years of Messi-Ronaldo careers, Pele will still remain the greatest football player of all time and only core Messi-Ronaldo fanatics and some few others will dispute that. Whatever scale one is going to use, it would be nearly impossible not to rate Pele above anyone else. From skills to statistics down to achievements, it’s all there. His over 750 official goals in just about 800 matches and his three world cup (the greatest football competition) among others will testify to that.
What of Maradona, who is viewed by many to have single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup? Well, Pele-Messi-Ronaldo individual and team achievements, as well as their consistency over a long period plus their crazy statistics, are too irresistible to place him above any of them; this is debatable though. His on and off the pitch controversies, and injuries also tend to work against him when it comes to discourses like this.
That this piece is intended to be more hypothetical than analytical means emphasis will not be laid on dishing out statistics of these players which it is assumed the reader is fairly conversant with. That it is intended to be as short as possible also means that long arguments will not be employed.
The player who is very close behind Pele among the all-time greats would arguably be Lionel Messi. There is probably no objective person who would watch Messi for a year and comfortably rate any other person other than Pele equal or above him. Does that make Cristiano Ronaldo and some of the best players over the last 40 years inferior? Certainly no. as far as there is competition, there must be some ranking.
How exactly everyone ranks and at what magnitude is one better than the other may be the only difficult thing to categorically determine. For example, if Pele is top among all-time greats and Cristiano is second, it doesn’t mean that the Brazilian is three times better than the Portuguese. Likewise, Zidane may be just some inches away from Messi in terms of greatness but still rank 5th, 6th or even lower.
Determining what constitutes greatness in itself is something very controversial. Is it by rating everyone base on what he is good at? If that’s so then why are many defenders and goalkeepers conspicuously missing among the all-time greats? Is it someone with the best statistics? Then where will the likes of Zidane and Ronaldinho end in such ranking? Is it the number of trophies? Then we will be speaking of only the likes of Dani Alves. Is it the individual honours? Then what happens to players who played when many awards were not even in existence. Is it the immensity of followership and support? Then no one can be better than Cristiano and David Beckham. Is it by the amount of individual influence on the team? Then let’s talk about Maradona only and the likes of Michel Platini and Alfredo Di Stefano. Is it by rating everyone base on the opportunities and circumstances he found himself? Then may God help the likes of Eusebio.
However, despite all these impediments, there must be some ranking governed by many factors that balance each other as well as with some rationality and objectivity.
Cristiano Ronaldo will most likely settle as the 3rd all-time greatest player. However, over the reaming 3 to 5 years of his career and with a world cup coming in June 2018, he still has a say on whether Messi is good enough for second place or even Pele in first place and we all know what Ronaldo can do in a year, not to talk of 3 to 5 years. If that isn’t achieved, he’ll have the chance to consolidate his place and move clear of competition from the likes of Maradona, Platini, Zidane, Beckenbauer, Ronaldo Nazario, Johan Cruyff and a host of others.
Now let’s see if there is any other way Cristiano can rank above Messi or even Pele among the all-time greats. Yes, that may happen if we decide to disaggregate greatness and approach it from different sub-categories. For instance, little will doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo is the most complete footballer of all time and the most successful European footballer ever. He’ll also be, alongside Gerd Muller, among the greatest goal scorers. With his 50 goals plus in 6 consecutive seasons and 25 plus in 10, he is perhaps the most consistent player ever. He is the most famous and supported footballer by far, also among the most decorated and the finest Portuguese player. He is the best player of the greatest club team in history. In fact, there is possibly no category of football greatness that Ronaldo would not become 1st, 2nd or 3rd.
In Messi’s case, he may rank worse than 3rd in many critical categories. For instance, in terms of completeness, he’ll be nowhere near the top 5; and even if he wins the world cup, Maradona may still be seen by the majority as the finest player in Argentine colours. Repeated failures in the South American continental competition and spending virtually his whole career out of the continent may see him rank below expectation among the all-time South American greats. However, he is among the greatest if not the greatest dribblers, playmakers and brilliant players of all time. His technique, decision-making and vision are incomparable.
If at the end of Messi-Ronaldo retirement, Pele still remains the greatest footballer, then he will have the latter to thank. Ronaldo has successfully put a clog in Messi’s bold wheel of attempting to become bigger than football itself. Ronaldo’s statistics are what most significantly makes his play great, but Messi’s stats appear to be only a by-product of his mesmerizing play. Messi does with little or no effort what Ronaldo sweats and labours to do. However, both players have shown us that there’s more than one key to any door and the most important thing is to use the key at your disposal to open it.
We can make a case for Ronaldo that football has not presented him with equal opportunities it presented Messi but at the end of it all, only few will give this view any significance. After all, there is a considerable amount of luck and external factors involved in any greatness. Besides, Ronaldo himself got more than a fair share of opportunities which thousands of other players will claim can do better if they had same.
Players like Ronaldo and Messi will be very difficult to have successors. While it is possible in Messi’s case since there is no limit to what nature can give you as the cases of Pele, Maradona and Brazilian Ronaldo can testify, it is nearly impossible to become a Portuguese Ronaldo. There is a limit to what hard work can give, but not when you are a Cristiano Ronaldo.
After all has been said and done, Messi’s post–retirement achievement will be by his natural master class; Ronaldo’s, by what he has forced out of himself to challenge nature, plus how he has prevented Messi from making everyone else look like a fool.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
The author tweets @AmirAbdulazeez