After Ronaldo’s dramatic Euro 2016 triumph with Portugal, it is high time to revisit the most common debate in the football world…
In recent years, the argument regarding who is the best player in the world has seemingly swung in favor of Lionel Messi. The Barcelona man had an outstanding season last year, leading his side to the treble and racking up 29 goals and 16 assists in 38 appearances en route to the Argentine’s fifth Ballon D’Or award. Due to his sparkling form for Barcelona, many have recently tipped him over Cristiano Ronaldo to be the greatest player of all time, including EiF’s very own Marc Geschwind, who recently wrote about why he thinks Messi is still the best.
However, what both Ronaldo and Messi have lacked in their illustrious careers is international trophies. Until now…
When Argentina reached the finals of the Copa America Centenario, all signs pointed towards Messi finally winning a major international tournament. Argentina were rampant throughout the competition, blowing away their opposition with ease in almost every game. Messi scored 5 goals and notched 4 assists in just five matches, including a hat trick as a second half substitute. Following an incredible season with Napoli, Gonzalo Higuain, usually the bane of Argentina’s trophy hopes, was scoring goals left and right and looked confident leading the line for La Albiceleste. The defense looked solid, and their tactics sound. After losing in the 2014 World Cup final and in the 2015 Copa America final, it seemed that the third time would be a charm for Messi and company.
But alas, it was not to be. After a dramatic 120 minutes, the score was still locked at 0-0, and the winner was to be decided by penalty kicks. Messi was first, and with a nation’s hopes on his back, and his own legacy on the line, he could not handle the pressure. He skied his penalty, and put his face in his hands as he dejectedly jogged back to join his teammates at midfield. Argentina went on to lose, and after the game the footage of Messi was heartbreaking to see for the Argentina faithful and neutrals alike. He looked a broken man, and his teammates’ attempts at consoling him were to no avail. Perhaps he already knew that he had blown his last chance, his final opportunity to cement his status as the greatest of all time.
Messi devastated after his third loss in a row in major tournament finals.
After the game, Sergio Aguero, a man who knows Messi better than perhaps anyone, said that he had never seen Messi so distraught. Then, to top it all off, Messi announced his retirement from the Argentina national team. While some believe that he was only upset about the loss and will in fact don the blue and white jersey again, for now his international career, and thus his dream to win a major tournament with Argentina, is over.
“It is the worst I have ever seen him in the dressing rooms after a game.” – Sergio Aguero
With Argentina going into the Copa America as clear favorites, Messi was expected to earn his first international silverware this summer, but no one expected Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal to have a chance in Euro 2016. After failing to win a game in the group stage, the Portuguese advanced in third place and were matched up with Croatia in the first knockout round, a match which they won 1-0. Next up was Poland, and it took penalties for Portugal to move past Lewandowski and company. In the semifinals, Portugal, still having not won a game in 90 minutes, faced Wales. Many viewed the match as more Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Gareth Bale than Portugal vs. Wales, and in the end CR7 ousted his Real Madrid teammate, scoring the opener for Portugal in what would eventually become a 2-0 win to send his team to the finals.
Like Messi, Ronaldo was also in tears at a major tournament final. Just 16 minutes into the match, Ronaldo went down and stayed down following a meaty challenge from Dimitri Payet. He went off the field to receive treatment, and came back on several minutes later, only to signal to the bench shortly after that he could not continue. As Ronaldo was carried into the dressing room on a stretcher, it seemed that there would be no hope for Portugal against the heavily favored home nation.
Ronaldo being stretchered off in tears during the first half of the Euro Cup final.
However, despite some close calls, the Portugal defense managed to ward off the French onslaught, with goalkeeper Rui Patricio making several brilliant saves to keep his side in the match. They were able to hold the score at 0-0 until overtime, by which point Ronaldo was back on the touchline demonstratively encouraging his teammates, riling up the fans, and even roaming through the technical area in a self-appointed role of assistant manager.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Player, Captain, Coach??
Substitute Eder scored the winning goal in the 109th minute, and he said afterwards that Ronaldo told him he would score the winner. When the final whistle blew, Ronaldo was a manifestation of passion and joy, and he was overcome with happiness even though he was not able to play himself. Afterwards, he said that this Euro Cup victory is one of his greatest accomplishments.
“This is one of the happiest moments of my career. I’ve always said I wanted to win a trophy with the national team and make history.” – Cristiano Ronaldo
At the moment, with a Champions League and a Euro Cup in the bag, and considering Messi’s failure to win the Copa America, Ronaldo surely must be the favorite to win the Ballon D’Or for this calendar year. If he does go on to win the coveted individual award, it will be his fourth, putting him just one behind Messi.
So now let’s return to the debate that soccer fans have discussed more than any other in recent years. Who is better, Messi or Ronaldo? Is one of them the best of all time or do they both fall short? Well, let’s look at the facts. Messi has won 8 La Ligas, 4 Champions Leagues, 4 Copa Del Reys, and 5 Ballon D’Ors, along with a plethora of other prestigious individual awards, and he has a career total of 508 goals and 214 assists in 644 appearances. Make no mistake, this is an absolutely astonishing record for a player of only 29 years old, and we can certainly expect Messi to add more silverware to his trophy cabinet before he hangs his boots up. However, there is one glaring absence on his resume, and that is international success. He has reached 3 Copa America finals and 1 World Cup final, but all four times failed to win a trophy.
But where Messi failed, Ronaldo has succeeded.
After Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph, there is now a strong argument that Cristiano Ronaldo has had a more complete and more successful career than Lionel Messi. Although he has “only” won 4 domestic titles, 3 domestic cups, 2 Champions Leagues, and 3 Ballon D’Or awards, he has something that Messi cannot seem to obtain, which is an international trophy. Moreover, Argentina are the number one team in the world, and Messi has failed four times to win a trophy with them. Portugal is far from the best team in the world, and Ronaldo has only been in two Euro Cup finals, one of which was in 2004, when he was 19. No one gave Portugal a chance in Euro 2016, but they progressed to the final after ousting Croatia, Poland, and Wales in the knockout stages. Despite having a relatively easy road to the final, the Portuguese were deserving winners, and now their talisman has achieved a goal he has had in his sights since he tasted defeat in 2004 as a teenager.
“I find the World Cup to be the truest test, the biggest test” – Shaka Hislop
The fact that Ronaldo has an international trophy and Messi does not brings a whole new element to the already intriguing conundrum that is the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate. In EiF’s exclusive interview with Shaka Hislop, the former Premier League and World Cup goalkeeper said that he would never rate Messi or Ronaldo as the best player of all time until they won a World Cup. Well, neither have won a World Cup, but Ronaldo now has a Euro Cup trophy under his belt, and Messi has once again come away empty handed. Does this mean that Ronaldo now has a more legitimate claim to the title of best player of all time than Messi does? Whether or not Ronaldo has surpassed Messi, one thing is for sure: Ronaldo took his chance this summer and cemented his status as one of the all-time greats, but unless Messi returns for Argentina and wins a trophy, his legacy will always be incomplete.