It’s a debate that has raged on for years, and perhaps as they enter the winter of their careers we are finally getting some closure on the infinite question: who is better out of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? Of course, nobody wants to hear from the sensible sorts who say we should just enjoy both of them while we can without resorting to reductive arguments on what is such a subjective topic of conversation, and so we have to delve into the numbers to determine who really is the greatest footballer of modern times.
On that note, Team Messi enjoyed a fillip recently when the Argentine notched a 65th minute goal against Valladolid in December. It was his 644th strike for Barcelona, and took Messi above the almighty Pele in the rankings as the all-time leading goalscorer for a single club. It’s a testament to the longevity and loyalty of the pair as much as their undoubted skill, with Pele blasting 643 goals for Santos in a 19-year reign of terror over Brazilian football from 1956 to 1974.
Messi still has the power to add to his tally, of course, and given that he seems to have shaken off the malaise that saw him request a transfer in the summer, it’s absolutely possible that the 33-year-old will increase his record over the next couple of seasons. That is just one achievement that Messi has delivered that a) may just stand for decades, if not all time, and b) marks him out as the master of Ronaldo. But what are the Argentine’s other key accomplishments?
Most Ballon d’Or Awards – Six
It is considered to be the pinnacle of individual football awards: the much vaunted Ballon d’Or. And it’s a trophy that Messi has lifted more than any other player – six times – starting with an unbeaten run from 2009-2012 before also picking up the statuette in 2015 and 2019.
That streak from 2009 to 2012 was the longest run of consecutive Ballon d’Or wins as well, and he is the record holder as the youngest ever multiple-time Ballon d’Or selection. As if to add some icing to the cake, the Argentine is also the most decorated player in the history of the Best FIFA Men’s Player Awards, taking home six gongs over the years.
Most Goals in a Calendar Year – 96
While Ronaldo is no stranger to finding the net at club and international level, even his incredible accomplishments pail in comparison to Messi’s record-breaking exploits. It’s fair to say that 2012 was a halcyon year for the Barcelona forward, and it was here that he broke all manner of goalscoring records. Chief among them was his tally of 96 strikes recorded in a single calendar year – by far and away the best total among those operating in elite competitions.
Allied to that record was the 72 goals he scored for Barcelona in 2012, which is the most ever netted in a single year in major club football, and it’s also a tally that sees Messi take the record for most goals scored in a single season. As if all that wasn’t enough, 2012 was the launchpad for another jaw-dropping exploit from the 33-year-old – he scored in 21 consecutive games between 2012-13, and that remains as the longest scoring streak in history.
World Cup Brilliance – Numerous
While Argentine have at times flattered to deceive on the international stage, Messi has rarely let his country down in the World Cup. The number ten was in tremendous condition in 2014, and that showed in his performances on the grandest stage of them all – the four Man of the Match awards that Messi won at World Cup ’14 is a record that may never be beaten.
Here’s another random but interesting fact: Messi is the only player in the annals of the World Cup to score in the famous tournament in his teens, twenties and thirties. He is the only player to make at least one assist in four different World Cups, and if you like your records particularly niche you will be delighted to hear that Messi has completed more dribbles at the World Cup – 110 – than any other player in history.
Most European Golden Shoe Awards – Six
When you think about it, just how hard is the European Golden Shoe Award to win? You have to net more goals than any other player across the continent’s top leagues, and – arguably – there are easier competitions to be prolific in than La Liga. That said, Lionel Messi leaves everyone else trailing in his wake with six wins in this unique award category – the next best is four, which was achieved by (you guessed it) Ronaldo.
Incidentally, this isn’t the only way in which Messi has conquered Europe. He was the fastest to reach 400 goals in any European competition, and also the quickest to net 100 times or more in the Champions League. And, it’s hard to foresee anyone getting close to his extraordinary record of blasting eight hat-tricks in Champions League matches.
Most Goals & Assists in La Liga – 450 + 183
To be the leading all-time goalscorer or the assist king in a league is one thing, but to be both is bordering on the unbelievable. But that’s exactly the spot he finds himself in – his 450 goal tally in La Liga will surely never be beaten, while his record of 183 assists will also take some overhauling. You could write thousands of words on Messi’s La Liga record breaking, so here are some of the choicest morsels:
- Most ‘Best Player in La Liga’ awards – 6
- Most goals scored in a La Liga season – 50 (2011-12)
- Most assists in a La Liga season – 21 (2019-20)
- Most hat-tricks in La Liga – 36
- Most hat-tricks in a La Liga season – 8 (2011-12)
- Most teams scored against in a La Liga season – 19 (2012-13)
Most Goals for Argentina – 71
In 2020, we lost the incomparable Diego Maradona, and even that genius with the ball at his feet can’t match Messi for international goals netted for Argentina – the Barcelona man’s haul of 71 is 17 clear of Gabriel Batistuta and some 37 ahead of Maradona himself.
He also holds three incredible records as the youngest player to appear for Argentina in a World Cup match (18 years, 357 days), the youngest to score for La Albiceleste in a World Cup game (the same day) and also the youngest captain of Argentina in a World Cup (22 years, 363 days). We have a habit of fetishising the careers of retired players over those still in action, but we must not waste the opportunity to enjoy Messi – the world’s greatest – while we still can.