Last Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo added a 3rd Champions League medal to his C.V., and with just 1 short of Messi’s 4, the never-ending debate surfaced again. Who is the best player of this generation? The Portuguese captain, or the Argentine skipper? Opinions are torn and divided as far as answering this question goes, and we can just ignore the debate and be grateful for having the duo grace the beautiful game in our time. However, that will be taking away all the fun. This almost decade-old rivalry is no doubt the greatest as far as the round-leather game is concerned, but it looks restricted to only club football as both players haven’t been able to record major successes at international level. In an attempt not to come out one-sided and judging their achievements based on club football (since that’s clearly only their fortes), here is why either of the 2 can be regarded as the greater, or lesser. You decide whom is which!
The tale of how their Champions League trophies came about
Back in 2006, Messi was part of the Rijkaard-led UCL-winning team. But the teenager was just a mere squad player at the time and wasn’t part of the final proceeding against Arsenal. But 3 years later, he was calling the shots in the final, scoring the winner in a Man-of-the-Match performance. A certain Ronaldo, then of Manchester United, was playing his 2nd Champions League final, but couldn’t make his mark as Pep’s side was guilty of making the game too one-sided. In the 2010/2011 season again, it was a Barca-United affair in the Final, and Messi would go ahead to score 1 goal in the 3 – 1 victory, earning another Man-of-the-Match award.
His most recent UCL winners medal came a little more than a year ago as Barcelona thrashed Juventus 3 – 1. This time around, La Pulga failed to record his name on the score sheet, but he was the mastermind behind 2 of Barcelona’s goals. It is safe to say Messi was very important in Barcelona’s last Champions League finals’ victories, and he showed up to the party when he was needed most. Those displays certainly saw to his 5 Ballon d’Or awards, and he will surely be remembered forever for them. At 28, and with Barcelona’s dominance still being felt in Europe, Messi’s Champions League medals are far from over. How many more to go? 2 or 4?
Ronaldo has, however, played silent roles in his 3 Champions League finals’ victories. Of a truth, all could have gone either way as we watched a CR7 incapable of putting in his best performance on all 3 occasions (news is that he played 2 injured). His first medal came at the expense of Chelsea thanks to a John Terry slip during the penalty kicks in the 2007/2008 season. 6 years later, Atletico were seconds away from snatching their first-ever Champions League trophy when Sergio Ramos took the match to extra time following his 92nd-minute goal. Ronaldo would go ahead to net a goal in Extra Time to hand Madrid the victory in a 4 – 1 rout, but truly, Simeone’s side might as well have stopped playing during that period.
Not to take anything away from the free-scoring number 7, he is as brilliant as they come (“they” would mean only 2 players in this instance though), and was a major reason Madrid made it to the Final this season, but he just never turned up when he was expected to. Atletico could have also won this one, but Lady Luck wasn’t for them during the penalties. The 31-year-old forward stepped up to take and convert the last kick, and that sealed Zidane’s fate as the first French manager to win the Champions League. A great performance at the Euros could seal Ronaldo’s 4th Ballon d’Or, but so could Messi, if his Argentina side manage to win the Copa, earn his 6th.
Perhaps, we will clearly never agree as to who really is the better player out of these 2 soccer gods, and a World Cup trophy might not even give either of them the needed-advantage to displace the other off the top spot, but the debate won’t end. Messi has been a one-club player all his life, while Ronaldo has held his own down at 3 sides. That is seen as a measure that puts him above his Barcelona rival, but many claim it’s not big enough a factor. At the end of the day, personal choices and preference will always cloud every football lover’s thinking as far as deciding the greater player goes. Maybe we should just continue to enjoy them both as we await for a next generation of brilliant rivals to come through, but deep down in our hearts/minds, one is and will always be greater than the other.