World Football: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's Place in History

Jaime HeilbronContributor IIINovember 9, 2012

Messi and Ronaldo are currently the best in the game.
Messi and Ronaldo are currently the best in the game.David Ramos/Getty Images

As the calendar year draws to a close and the various leagues around the globe come close to finishing their first halves of competition, football fans around the world turn their attention to this year’s “Ballon d’Or” race, which once again seems to be a two-man race between Argentine Lionel Messi from F.C. Barcelona and Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid C.F., with Atlético de Madrid’s Radamel Falcao being a distant third.

This race, however, also invites and opens the discussion to figuring out and projecting both players’ place in history.

At this point, one could make an argument for Cristiano Ronaldo being in the top 15 of all-time players, judging by both his dominance and accolades. In the case of Messi, one could make a strong argument for him being in the top five of all time. In all likelihood, when all is said and done, he could very well be regarded as the greatest of all time when his career draws to an end.

That is going too far into the future, however, so it is important to focus on the present.

Ronaldo makes a strong argument for a being a top 15 player of all time. He has been successful and triumphed everywhere he’s played. While he’s yet to raise a trophy with Portugal, he’s been the face of the Portuguese national team and led them to a third place finish in the 2012 Euro. Ronaldo was a member of the teams that finished second in the 2004 Euro and fourth in the 2006 World Cup, scoring goals in both tournaments.

Cristiano Ronaldo has excelled the most, however, when playing for his respective clubs. He joined British side Manchester United in 2003, and despite suffering relatively low-scoring seasons in his first few years, he quickly picked it up in his fourth season, 2006-07. He was an instrumental part of the team raising the Premier League title, scoring 17 goals in 34 appearances and 23 in 53 total showings with the club.

Ronaldo’s best year at Manchester United was by far the 2007-2008 season, in which he led the team to repeat as Premier League Champions, winning the UEFA Champions League and then the FIFA Club World Cup later that year.

In 49 appearances throughout the campaign, Ronaldo scored 42 goals, which led him to winning that year’s Ballon d’Or.


Ronaldo has enjoyed his greatest personal success when he joined Real Madrid, specifically during the last two seasons. In 2010-11, he broke the scoring record for a single La Liga season with 40 goals in 34 appearances.

The most surprising part of it all, however, is that the record did not last more than a season.

The following year, 2011-12, Lionel Messi broke it by scoring 50 goals. It should not be ignored, however, that Ronaldo did improve his goal total, scoring 46 in 38 league appearances, while making it 60 in 55 in all competitions. Ever since he joined Real Madrid, he has scored 164 goals in 160 total appearances, averaging over a goal per game, an unprecedented amount.

At the same time, Messi’s accomplishments are more impressive, well-known and numerous, which is why at the moment he could arguably be placed among the top five players of all time, with the likes of Maradona and Pelé.

Messi has quickly become Barcelona’s symbol, and its greatest player of all time.

Since his debut in 2004 and his rise to fame in subsequent years it has become hard-pressed to mention F.C. Barcelona without mentioning Lionel Messi. As a member of the team, Messi has won 19 total club titles, but it's not the amount, which is the most important, but the fact that he’s played an important part in at least 14 of them.

At the young age of 25, Messi is already the club’s all-time leading goal scorer and he is only going to increase his total until it reaches an unreachable number by anyone else.

He holds several records by himself, of which the most important one is winning the Ballon d’Or (former FIFA World Player of the Year) three times, a record he shares with Brazil’s Ronaldo and France’s Zinedine Zidane, but he has done it for three straight years. He also holds the record for most goals scored in a season in all competitions with 73, as well as being tied for most goals in a European cup season with 14.


The one thing working against both Ronaldo and Messi is the fact that they have not won anything important with their main national teams. (Messi does hold an Olympic gold medal to his name with Argentina in 2008.) This especially works against Messi since he’s constantly being compared and placed in the same light as Maradona and Pelé.

In his defense, one also has to look at the Argentina teams he’s been a part of, with their defensive deficiencies and lack of balance in the midfield. The Argentine national team has also been in a lull ever since it raised the Copa América trophy in 1993, coming close to winning numerous other competitions, only to suffer heartbreak after heartbreak.

Despite their lack of major success at the international level, there is little doubt that Messi and Ronaldo are the two best players of this generation. At the same time, they are quickly making a name for themselves in the all-time record books and if they maintain the level they currently have over the next few years, they could rise even higher in the all-time lists.