Today, it’s difficult to answer “Who’s the best footballer in the world?” with any name other than Lionel Messi's.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the competition. And when the two strikers faced off in El Clasico, the comparison looked even.
Each scored a pair of goals in a 2-2 draw. But since then, Barcelona’s superstar has made it clear that he currently has the edge—even if it’s ever so slight—over Real Madrid’s.
Messi leads all Spanish La Liga scorers with 17 goals this season. He also boasts seven assists. And that production came in just 12 matches.
Ronaldo’s 12 goals and one assist in 13 games don’t measure up, especially when he’s attempted 29 more shots than Messi. Of course, goals accounted for fail to tell the whole story of a player’s performance.
And on that note, WhoScored.com’s rating system ranks Messi’s play this season 1.01 points superior to Ronaldo’s. To put that gap into perspective, it’s equal to the difference between Ronaldo and Zaragoza’s Apono, Betis’ Canas and Espanyol’s Raul Rodriguez. That isn’t a knock on Ronaldo—that’s simply how dominant Messi has been.
Ian Chadband of The Telegraph reported after El Clasico that, despite the tie, Barca coach Tito Vilanova saw such a disparity coming. He claimed of Messi: “He is the best in the world by a big margin.”
But don’t just take the biased Vilanova’s word for it. According to ESPN’s Richard Jolly, Manchester City forward Carlos Tevez, who's played alongside both Messi and Ronaldo, said when asked who’s better:
I think it is only right if Cristiano Ronaldo does believe he is the best in the world. Any guy who gets 37-40 goals a season has a right to believe that, but if you push me I am always going to go on the side of Messi.
Gerd Muller would likely sing the same tune. Since January 1, Messi has scored 80 goals—five short of Muller’s calendar-year record which has lived for four decades.
With all the numbers—including an undefeated La Liga campaign—as well as a couple relevant voices pointing the crown in his direction, Messi is without a doubt the football king. Ronaldo may have held the title of the world's best footballer in the past.
But today, if two teams were picked, playground-style, to win a single match, who would select Ronaldo over Messi?
Someone who isn't aware of the numbers, that's who.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.