I have been maintaining this statistical comparison between Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for many years, but I had never decided to write subjectively about them.
Today I saw an excerpt from a Dazn interview with Cristiano Ronaldo, and I think it is convenient to talk about it:
In this interview, Cristiano Ronaldo suggests something that we all know: he considers himself superior to Leo Messi. He bases his speech on the fact that he has played in different clubs and has won the Champions League in several of them, specifically Manchester United and Real Madrid. He also argues that he was the top scorer in the Champions League 6 consecutive seasons.
All right, these arguments could be bought by anyone, right? But I do not agree with the main premise. I do not believe that Cristiano Ronaldo is superior to Leo Messi, but quite the opposite.
First, let’s talk about the titles.
Is it more meritorious to win the Champions League with different clubs?
When Cristiano Ronaldo won the Champions League with Manchester United, the Old Trafford team had a real team. Not in vain they reached 3 Champions League finals in 4 years, the last one without Cristiano Ronaldo. Remember that in one of those finals, Cristiano faced Messi… and he lost.
Then, Cristiano did not leave for a mediocre club. He left for Real Madrid, the club with the most European Cups in its showcases, a club that surrounded Cristiano with great players and where Cristiano won the Champions League again. Meritorious, of course … but is it really more difficult to win the Champions League with Real Madrid than to win it with Barcelona? Is it more complicated to win the Champions League with the Manchester United team than with Barcelona? That Manchester who also reached the final of 2011 when Cristiano was already gone? That Real Madrid that every year creates a golden squad thinking about the Champions?. I honestly don’t believe it.
In fact, I think it is much more complicated to win the Champions League several times with the club you came to when you were 13, in which you had to make your way up the whole chain until you reach the first team. Where you had to win a place in the attack of one of the most competitive clubs in the world arriving from the base, unseating the great signings and gaining the confidence of the coaches to decide to bet on you, who came from La Masía, and not on expensive forwards coming from outside.
Does it all come down to the Champions League?
Of course, the Champions League is the most prestigious club tournament, and the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo has won 6 consecutive top scorer trophies is wild, but let’s not forget that Messi has also achieved 6 Champions top scorer trophies, although in non consecutive years. Is it more valuable to achieve it in consecutive years than to achieve it in skipped years? I do not think so, it seems a mere statistical coincidence.
And on the other hand, why does Cristiano Ronaldo always refer to the Champions League to show off his numbers? He does it because it is in the Champions League where his numbers are better, although one thing must be clear: Cristiano Ronaldo is the top scorer in the Champions League only because he has played 2 editions more than Leo Messi. If we go to their Champions League averages, Cristiano averages 0.78 goals per game and Messi 0.83. Cristiano has played 27 games more than Messi in this competition, and that is the only thing that makes him be above.
Scoring goals is everything?
Let us now go to the key point of this comparison. Cristiano always talks about the goals he has scored here and there, about his Champions League top scorer prizes and his statistics.
Do we not realize that Messi is much more than that?
The only aspect in which Cristiano can resemble Messi is in the number of goals he scores (and here we will also have to say that Messi scores more). If we go to the rest of the aspects that make up an attacking footballer, such as assists, passes between the lines, dribbles, key passes, the ability to associate and generate offensive play… Leo Messi is well above Cristiano Ronaldo in all of them.
Let’s see the details:
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal scoring rate: 0,72 goals per game.
- Lionel Messi’s goal scoring rate: 0,82 goals per game.
- Assists given by Cristiano Ronaldo: 219 in 962 games
- Assists given by Lionel Messi: 275 in 823 games
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s successful dribbles: 803 of 1539 (52% effectiveness)
- Messi’s successful dribbles: 2085 of 3459 (60% effectiveness)
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s key passes: 776
- Lionel Messi’s key passes: 1046
We understand as a key pass the one that ends in a teammate’s shot, but that does not end in goal.
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s passes: 15.067
- Lionel Messi’s passes: 26.111
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s effectiveness: 2.970 shots for 455 goals (scores one goal every 6,5 shots)
- Lionel Messi’s effectiveness: 2306 shots for 466 goals (scores one goal every 4,9 shots)
Performance in finals
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance in finals: 19 goals and 2 assists in 28 finals played.
- Lionel Messi’s performance in finals: 29 goals and 14 assists in 34 finals played.
We could even go to assess some aspect of the defensive game:
Steals (interceptions + tackles)
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s steals: 314
- Lionel Messi’s steals: 480
Finally, we could assess the disciplinary aspect:
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s red cards: 11
- Lionel Messi’s red cards: 2
Based on this data, what can be the analysis?
Cristiano Ronaldo bases his argument, as we have said before, on the goals he has scored, especially in the Champions League, and on the titles he has raised with different teams.
From my point of view, and remember that this article is about that, giving my opinion, winning the Champions League is as meritorious as with one club as with another, unless you manage to win it with a smaller club being the star of the competition. Neither Barcelona, nor Real Madrid, nor Manchester United 10 years ago, nor the current Juventus are small clubs. Winning the Champions League with any of them is something that falls within expectations.
If we go to the statistical field, what we can see is that Messi is more effective than Cristiano Ronaldo. He needs less shots to score and scores more goals per game than the Portuguese.
On top of that, he is a player who is much more involved in his team’s game, as the passing figures show.
In addition, he not only generates the goals he scores, but assists much more than Cristiano Ronaldo to his teammates.
As if all this were not enough, he dribbles far better than Cristiano Ronaldo, which makes him break lines with the ball and generate many more danger. He also steals more balls, he is more successful in his tackles and leaves his team less times in numerical inferiority.
Clarification for fanboys: I do not underestimate Cristiano Ronaldo
But not everything I’m going to talk about in this post is negative against Cristiano, much less. I think CR7 is the best striker I’ve ever seen. He kicks just as well with both legs, he uses his height and jump perfectly for headers, he places himself always in the right place inside the box. But does this serve to be superior to Messi?
Messi is more complete than Cristiano Ronaldo in all aspects of the attacking game, except in the header and the use of his “bad leg”, and the proof is that without being an excellent striker and without being tall, he scores more goals and generates more goals than CR7.
The confirmation of these data is in the number of goals generated for their clubs and national teams:
- Goals generated by Cristiano Ronaldo (scored and assisted): 908 in 962 games (0,94 goals generated per game).
- Goals generated by Lionel Messi (scored and assisted): 946 in 823 games (1,15 goals generated per game).
In conclusion, I consider Lionel Messi is the greatest of all time. No one has maintained such a monstrous level for so many years, ever. Instead, when we talk about Cristiano Ronaldo, we must put him on the list of the best scorers of all time, with Müller, Romario, Pelé, Ronaldo Nazario, etc. but I would never put him in my TOP-3 player of all time list.