Johan Cruyff Talks Lionel Messi–Cristiano Ronaldo Ballon D'Or Race, Xavi, More

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistOctober 6, 2015

Johan Cruyff, the Dutch great who once coached Barcelona Club, pauses during his presentation as the new advisor for the Chivas de Guadalajara team at the Omnilife stadium in Guadalajara, Mexico, Saturday Feb. 25, 2012. 2012. Cruyff, 64, was introduced at a new conference where the team owner said Cruyff received a three-year contract and would be visiting the club several times each year to oversee all facets of team development from the youth system to the first team.(AP Photo/Bruno Gonzalez)
Bruno Gonzalez/Associated Press

Ex-Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff has added fuel to the debate that Lionel Messi is a superior player to Real Madrid counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo, insisting the Blaugrana marvel deserves to win the 2015 Ballon d'Or.

The Dutchman is in no way ignorant to the obvious ability of Ronaldo, but there is no argument in Cruyff's mind after he asserted Barca's pint-sized hero as the bigger talent, per Albert Masnou of Spanish newspaper Sport:

For me, I have always liked small, technical players because that's a little what I was like. Ronaldo is a great player, but he's a goal scorer. He will never be the player that can create or force a team to play well. He cares about finishing. He is a great player.


Messi is much more of a team player than Cristiano. He gives passes, produces many more assists... so for me, as a player, not a goalscorer, although he also scores a lot, the best is Messi. For me, there's a great difference between being a great player and a goalscorer.

It's difficult to argue with Cruyff's argument that Messi improves the team in which he plays; after all, his Barcelona claimed a European and domestic treble last season, while Ronaldo's Real Madrid won nothing.

Cruyff even goes so far as to say "there's no discussion" in regard to who should take the accolade come January, although it would be safe to bet the Madridistas of the Bernabeu would have something to say.

Then, there's also the point that judges must look beyond trophies accumulated in deciding who the world's most talented individual is, but silverware will inevitably count as a factor to some.   

Messi already has four Ballon d'Or triumphs to his name, and Milanese journalist Tancredi Palmeri has dealt Ronaldo another blow after insisting the Portugal captain doesn't even deserve to make the top three:

Tancredi Palmeri @tancredipalmeri

Yes. My Ballon d'Or podium: 1. Messi; 2. Neymar; 3. Buffon https://t.co/x1yMy3YDjB

Of course, it would be fair to assert Cruyff has a slight bias in the matter considering he managed Barcelona from 1988 to 1996—not to mention taking his place at the helm of Catalonia between 2009 and 2013.

It's well-founded just what a rare talent the Argentinian international is, and Messi10Stats recently provided a breakdown of his career by numbers, with his goal tally for club and country having since risen to 468:

Cruyff goes on to explain his confusion regarding why attackers, the more frequent scorers of goals, are any more valued than a goalkeeper, defender or midfielder who does his job to a world-class standard.

The 68-year-old highlighted ex-Barca veteran and club legend Xavi Hernandez as one of the most talented he's seen, suggesting the former Spain international was undervalued during his days at the top:

"One of the best Barca players was Xavi because he was always in the middle of the pitch, controlling the tempo," he said. "He knew he had to pass to the full-back, when to hold back. ... Only a few people see that. It's difficult to explain because nobody understands."

Xavi was largely regarded as one who would run Barcelona's engine from the shadows, pulling the strings for the likes of Messi, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o during his 17-year career at the Camp Nou.

And yet the Spaniard stands out as one of those who missed out on the title of "world's best" despite being a talisman in his own right, although he did place third in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Finally, Cruyff gave his opinion on the Barcelona of now compared to the Barcelona that played under Pep Guardiola between 2008 and 2012, which claimed three consecutive La Liga crowns and two Champions League titles.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Cruyff was careful not to criticise Luis Enrique's current squad, but he did note the difference in those who run the engine room, saying: "You only have to see the characteristics of the players in the middle of the pitch."

Replacing a player of Xavi's quality would be no easy task for any manager, and Andres Iniesta's prominence in the team is gradually diminishing while the likes of Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic remain.

Iniesta's eventual departure from the team will mark the passing of a torch in Catalan country, one sure to affect the club as it seeks to bring about a new era of prosperity.