Whether you are a die-hard soccer fan or just stick to watching the World Cup, you likely know two names: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. These two men are widely considered the greatest soccer players ever. For years, however, fans have been in a fiery debate about which player is the Greatest of All Time, or GOAT.
Despite many fans on both sides of the table providing arguments for each player, there has only ever been one correct answer when comparing them head-to-head; Ronaldo.
This debate intensified and became more one-sided after Ronaldo’s controversial move to the relatively small Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr and Messi’s 2022 World Cup win.
In general, fans were angry about the Al-Nassr move because the club didn’t have much history, the league wasn’t especially competitive and money was the primary incentive for Ronaldo.
According to NBC Sports, this year, Ronaldo will officially be the highest-paid sportsperson in history, with a new contract earning him over $200 million, just adding yet another superlative that can be used when describing him.
The biggest issue I have noticed regarding the GOAT debate is a large group of bandwagon fans who support both Lionel Messi and Argentina because of their World Cup campaign and the abundance of related mainstream press.
A large proportion of these people are not true fans of the sport and seldom watch matches outside of the World Cup every four years. This becomes obvious scrolling through social media, seeing people with little to no history with the game posting photos of Messi and calling him the GOAT.
Sure, if you only consider World Cup goals, Messi comes out on top with a tally of 13. Despite this, Ronaldo has scored in all five editions of the World Cup he has played in, making him the first male player in history to do so.
On top of that, at 37 years old, Ronaldo’s penalty goal against Ghana in the round of 16 made him the third oldest player to ever score in a World Cup match.
Although his World Cup performances have been very impressive, Ronaldo’s overall career achievements are what make him shine.
According to Sporting News, Ronaldo is the top professional goal scorer of all time, with 819 goals across 1,144 games. Over two-thirds of these games have been in La Liga and the Premier League — the two most competitive leagues in the world.
Ronaldo led Portugal to the country’s first-ever win in the Euros against a majority of the world’s most competitive national teams. Comparing this to Messi’s Copa America wins against teams for the Americas is almost laughable, considering the gulf in quality between the two tournaments.
Ronaldo has won the second most Ballon d’Or awards in history and has won more European Golden Shoe awards and Ballon d’Or than any European player in history.
In the UEFA Champions League, Ronaldo has earned the nickname “Mr. UCL” by, leading his team to victory once with Manchester United and four times with Real Madrid.
Although Messi has the most Ballon d’Or awards at seven, it is widely considered that Ronaldo’s sixth was “stolen” in 2018 because of a heavy focus on Luka Modric’s World Cup performance.
Cristiano Ronaldo can genuinely be considered the most outstanding all-around athlete to ever step on a soccer pitch.
According to the official Olympics website, Ronaldo holds the record for the highest header in-game at a staggering 2.93 meters.
Stats aside, Ronaldo’s work ethic is one of, if not his most admirable qualities.
Being two years older than Messi, Ronaldo has had to work harder than Messi to maintain the same level of play for years. Ronaldo looks even fitter today than he did 15 years ago, and this doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.
Ronaldo pushes himself beyond the challenges and adversity he faces, such as mistreatment at clubs, the loss of his child and an overwhelming amount of hate online and in person.
His unrelenting work ethic, no matter what happens, is the thing that truly separates him from his competitors.
With the looming retirement of Messi and Ronaldo on the horizon, this leaves one question for all soccer fans: will there ever be another player on the same level as Messi and Ronaldo?
Either way, there is a limited time left to watch them play. Whether your opinion on the GOAT debate is right (Ronaldo) or wrong (Messi), now is the prime time to enjoy and celebrate their careers.
— By Andrew Burr
Originally published in the Feb. 8 edition of The Octagon