For the best part of the last decade, two names have dominated world football (soccer) more than any others; Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. These great rivals have broken countless football records, scored insane number of goals and pushed each other all the way to greatness despite the fact that they are two very different football players, playing two very different styles in two very different roles for two different clubs. The only thing that really connects the two is the ocean of ability that separates them from the rest of the players in the world. There can be no question as to whether the duo belongs in the pantheon of football all-time greats anymore. Although any effort to determine the greatest footballer of all time is subject to generational bias, it should be noted that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not individually or collectively the greatest football player[s] of all time due to the following reasons;
Cristiano is not the best ‘Ronaldo’ to play the game: Despite his unparalleled achievement in and off the field of play, Cristiano Ronaldo is still not considered the best Ronaldo to have played the game. Ronaldo de Assisi (also known as Ronaldinho) and Ronaldo de Lima (the phenomenon) are the other ‘Ronaldos’ whose legendary attacking prowess is often compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s. Ronaldo de Lima was a more explosive and complete striker who would have probably been the ‘World’s Best Striker Ever’ if he had stayed injury-free in his footballing career, while Ronaldinho was the entertainer who, at his peak, constantly wowed the footballing world. Cristiano Ronaldo is better than other ‘Ronaldos’ in terms of constituency over the years, phenomenal goal-scoring rates, overall fitness and prolonged career (due to low rate of injuries) but for sheer skill, explosiveness, superior technical ability, and the ‘wow’ factor, the two ‘Ronaldos’ are better than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Lionel Messi is not the best ever Argentine player: It is a well-known fact that for a footballer to be the best ever in the world, he has to be the best ever footballer in his country and sadly, Lionel Messi isn’t both. Lionel Messi is not the best football player Argentina has produced. That honor goes to Diego Armando Maradona. Maradona (widely regarded as one of the best football players ever) is a footballing legend that inspired Argentina to a world cup victory and S.S.C. Napoli (in the Italian Football League) to its first and second League title [Scudetti] in its history. He is the scorer of the world’s most dubious goal (the ‘Hand of God’ goal) and the FIFA Goal of the Century. There is virtually a cult around the player in Argentina. Diego Maradona (and Pele) is the benchmark for the illustrious South American nation when a new star comes on to the block. So, while Messi has dazzled on the European stage, passing milestone after milestone and picking up loads of awards, his countrymen regard him as the country’s second best football player ever.
Both players have never won the World Cup: Although the latter rounds of the modern-day UEFA Champions League would rival the FIFA World Cup in terms of quality, with talents from around the globe increasingly concentrated in the hands of an elite few, the World Cup still retains substantial symbolic value as a quadrennial competition which pit the best of one nation against the best of another. It is no secret Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have never won (or inspired their respective countries to win) the FIFA World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo has won an European Cup (The Euros) with his home country, Portugal but has never been to the semi-finals or the finals of the World Cup while Lionel Messi was underwhelming in the 2014 world cup semi-final and final with his home country Argentina eventually losing to Germany. The World (and Messi) was shocked when he was named the best player and awarded the Golden Ball of the tournament. Lionel Messi is also a three-time runner-up in the Copa America competition with Argentina. Most football players such as Zinedine Zidane, Pele, Diego Maradonna, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo de Lima etc. often touted as the world’s best ever football player all played dominant roles in the World Cup tournament they eventually won. The same cannot be said presently of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
They are not Football’s best Goal-scorers ever: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are efficient, effective and phenomenal goal scorers boasting amazing goal per match ratio but they aren’t among the five best goal scorers in football history. Neither of them have scored up more than 700 goals in their respective careers so they cannot be in the company of great players such as Pele, Romario, Josef Bican, Ferenc Puskas (he has a FIFA goal-scoring award named after him), Gerd Muller. The rate of scoring of these legendary players is more impressive than that of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo given they ended their footballing careers with goal tallies well into the 800s. So if scoring goals are what makes footballers great, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, having better players boasting better goal tallies ahead of them, cannot be the greatest footballers of all time.
Both players have been accused of being criminals: They both have tax payment issues with the Spanish authorities (the country they reside and play in) and so have been accused of being criminals. After a lengthy trial that attracted so much publicity due to his status as a supremely gifted sportsman, Lionel Messi (and his father) was found guilty of not paying his taxes to the Spanish government, fined heavily and sentenced to two years in prison (he has since agreed to pay an increased fine rather than have a 21-month suspended prison sentence). His trial, guilty verdict, fine and (suspended) sentence damaged his credibility as a morally upright athlete who could do no wrong and that of his football club (FC Barcelona). Cristiano Ronaldo is also being investigated for tax evasion by the Spanish authorities, might be tried (or not), heavily fined and get a suspended prison sentence.
Their overall goal tallies are padded with too many penalties: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the greatest goal scorers of their generation. They score obscene number of goals in a football season but almost half of the total goals scored both players have come from the penalty spot. In football, penalties are the easiest way to score because it involves only the designated penalty-taker and a goal keeper to beat. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, being the designated penalty-takers of their respective club sides, always take every penalty kick awarded them or their teammates thereby increasing their goal tallies. In 2013/2014 Football season in England, Luis Suarez of Liverpool FC (before he moved to FC Barcelona to become a teammate of Lionel Messi) won the highest goal scorer award in the English Premier League and shared the European Golden Shoe award with Cristiano Ronaldo by scoring 32 goals in 33 games in open play without taking a single penalty. That is a record Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do not yet hold.
They play for football’s most valuable clubs: Messi and Ronaldo play for super-clubs in Spain where the top sides score goals by the hatful. The second millennium’s new financial order unfortunately gave birth to the modern super team essentially creating a certain form of predictability in both domestic and continental leagues. Lionel Messi plays for FC Barcelona in Spain while Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid CF also in Spain. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF are extremely rich and dominant football clubs that can afford to buy and stockpile the best and most expensive football talent anywhere in the world and so Messi and Ronaldo are always surrounded and assisted by world-class players to aid in dominating continental club football thus raising their international profiles. Both clubs always have a slew of world-class players at their disposal which leads to utter domination in domestic (Spanish La Liga) and continental (UEFA Champions League) football competitions.
The benefit of playing in the Modern Era: It is almost impossible to compare players of different era in a game that has changed so much over the years. Great footballers like Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo di Stefano played in an era when the game was played at a tempo unrecognizably slower than in the modern era. That does not make them less great than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The game played presently has changed because of changes in rules governing the game and the quality of footballs produced and used. Players in the modern era are also fitter, faster, and stronger than they have ever been, but players (especially defenders) are technically weaker than they have ever been. The Champions League’s expansions of the nineties is also an advantage to the modern player: having a group stage allows a margin of error that simply did not exist in the knock out style pre-1995 tournament. It has never been easier for attackers – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo probably would never score 40-60 goals a season in the 1980s when the rules governing the game and footballs used didn’t benefits attackers (strikers), and defenders/defenses were littered with world-class talents.
They are a part of football’s rich history: We view the history of the game through our own national experiences, or at least we did until the modern era, where we can watch the Spanish league, Messi and Ronaldo every weekend. It is worth remembering that in the 1970s and even into the 1980s, most of Europe just watched the European Cup and UEFA Cup games of their own national teams. So, here is a little suggestion; the next time Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo score a breath-taking goal and someone on Twitter suggests the debate (on the greatest football player) is over, head to YouTube and spend ten minutes watching goals from Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Pele, Ferenc Puskas, Roberto Baggio, Eusebio, Alfredo di Stefano and so on. There have been plenty of geniuses in the game, and Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are part of that rich football history.
Generational and positional bias in football: The hunt for the greatest football player in history is like that of the Holy Grail. All footballers (sportsmen) are products of their time. Due to football’s developmental stagnation relative to other sport and because there are so many different positions, and so many roles within those positions, it is hard to have a worthwhile conversation about who the best football player of all time is. Since the main objective of the game is to score a goal, the best goal scorers such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will always be near the top of any list about the game’s best players.
Conclusion; Don’t kid yourself that there won’t be another player like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, no-one thought they would see another player like Diego Maradona.