CR7 vs Messi: The Never-Ending Debate.

I browse to YouTube.com to get information regarding data structures in computing and I see different videos created by different people, each person attempting to put one of these two players on a higher pedestal than the other. I am intrigued. As a person with an analytical mind, I will try to give an unbiased explanation of my understanding (spoiler alert- I lean towards magic over precision).

Let me start with Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo is the epitome of what can be achieved through hard-work, dedication and the constant quest for perfection. While at sporting Lisbon, he always outperformed his peers and did enough destruction to the back line of a great sir Alex Ferguson team, that John Oshea was left disoriented and Sir Alex had to get him.

He started off as a flying winger, with unmatched footwork and tricks that never seemed to run out. He was youthful and exuberant and yet, he shone in a physically demanding premier league. Upon being crowned the FIFA world best footballer in 2008, Real Madrid as they so often do, made him a madridista/galactico. Then he unleashed his inner beast. He has gone on to win four more world best awards, score 439 goals and amass 117 assists in just 428 games. In footballing terms, these numbers are absurd. At 33, he has adapted himself to be a potent and dangerous adversary for his opponents, since he now plays more as a goal hanger, a task which he has a knack for executing flawlessly.

Lionel Messi on the other hand, shows where sheer talent, hard-work, teamwork and humility can take an individual to. He is the epitome of pure footballing artistry. He started his footballing career at the fabled La Masia academy in Barcelona, where his prodigious talent was instantly recognized by none other than the great footballing wizard, Ronaldinho. Without the physical bearings of a modern day athlete, Messi has managed to use his diminutive size to devastating effects.

He started off on the wings, decimating opposition full-backs, and in a stroke of genius, was converted to a false nine by one of the greatest coaches of our generation, Josep Pep Guardiola. He went on to win five world best awards, which was unprecedented, as well as winning four in a row, testament to his consistency. He has scored an unfathomable 459 goals and produced 173 assists in just 463 games. At almost 31, he drifts deeper into the middle of the park to orchestrate waves of attack and still manages to score a lot of goals in the process.

I hope by now the abilities of these individuals have been put into some context, a context which may not be befitting of all their achievements. Nevertheless, I will try to discuss these players based on their strengths and weaknesses.

Late Johan Cryuff, the greatest proponent of total football, once said “For me, there is a great difference between a great player and a great goal scorer”, a veiled dig at Ronaldo which, I must say, did not do Ronaldo’s prowess justice. I will say unequivocally that Ronaldo is a truly great player. Although he is obsessed with numbers and goal scoring, he adds a lot of value to his team. Most great players need a bit of selfishness to really stand out. Ronaldo has definitely stood out. He is unarguably the most complete goal scorer of his generation, scoring with any part of his body that can officially be used to score a goal. Messi will always prefer to use his left foot, he uses his head only when he has no option and is not as great a header of the ball as Ronaldo. Messi does not need to use his head or his right foot, but when he uses them, he does it beautifully.

Lionel Messi is simply a magician. He does what other players can only dream of doing and he makes it look straightforward. Cameras replay his every move and scientists dissect his actions, they remain lost for words. Ronaldo is simply a perfectionist. His strict diet, exercise regimen and lifestyle say as much. Physically, it is more appropriate to compare him to a machine. Many have done so.

Messi’s detractors say he has never left Spain and that if he goes to England, he will not be successful. The exploits of David Silva, Juan Mata, Sergio Aguero and other diminutive players that came to England from Spain and managed to shine say otherwise. Messi will simply be successful anywhere, and it would not be smart of him to leave a great team just to prove a moot point. Ronaldo had the opportunity to move to teams that were arguably better than his previous team until he reached the pinnacle. Messi was already in a team that was in the top echelon of Europe elite. Not a lot of options for him.

The major difference is the way opponents react to both players, especially now. When Messi is with the ball, the opposition hopes that whatever he conjures up does not turn into a goal. When Ronaldo is not with the ball, you hope that none of his team mates can give him a pass, with him in a goal-scoring position. Ronaldo does the difficult things consistently, while Messi does the unbelievable things effortlessly.

It all boils down to what you prefer as an individual, precision and efficiency vs magical ability. Neither choice is intrinsically wrong. Although you may look with disdain at a person who believes the sweetest fruit in the world is a pear, you should try not to hold it against him/her. When you describe completeness of a player in terms of physical attribute, then you may say Stephen Nzonzi is better than Iniesta, D. Silva and Modric because he is better with his head, he is faster, and he is stronger. With all due respect to Nzonzi, REALLY…

I prefer magic. Living Legends such as Zidane, Pirlo, Modric and Iniesta do not score a lot of goals but they are revered for what they do with the ball. Hristo Stoichkov and Gerd Mueller are great players but are fondly remembered as great goal scorers. Pele, Ronaldo De Lima (O fenomeno) and Maradona are a lot more than their numbers.

CR7 and Messi score different types of goals. CR7 scores the pile-drivers which leave commentators impressed while Messi scores the artistic goals which leave commentators awe-struck. Messi has unbelievable vision, passing accuracy, dribbling efficiency, all with an economy of movement. Ronaldo prefers his tricks and flicks, which more often than not, do nothing but show he can do them. For a person to be as good as Messi and still score a plethora of goals, I believe kudos must be given to Ronaldo for keeping up and doing as well as he does.

Fortunately/unfortunately for us, world best awards are not given to the most talented. It is always difficult, if not impossible, to use a set of predefined metrics to determine who the best player is. In modern day football, its more about politics, and the person with the stronger camp wins.

The true test of their greatness for me is this: when their goals are taken away, who would you rather watch.