Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Messi of Barcelona, have done things (and still are doing things ) which no one has ever done in football.
Probably will never do in football and that is to score goals in, almost, every game. In every tournament and against every team.
Messi has scored over 40 goals in the past six consecutive seasons while Ronaldo has scored over 50 goals in each of the last five seasons.
And that is not even the whole story. In between, there were seasons where Messi scored 73 goals and then he scored another sixty odd goals and just last season Messi scored around 58 goals.
Ronaldo just scored 61 goals last season. It just seems so easy for these two.
No one has ever come close to scoring goals at the rate these two are. Not Pele. Not Maradona and certainly not Zidane (who had about hundred odd goals throughout the whole of his career).
But do statistics really tell the whole story? If Messi has scored over 400 times and Zidane just edged past the hundred mark when he retired then does that mean that Messi is at the very least four times as good as Zidane was?
Are these two really better than the great Pele, Maradona, Eusebio, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, De Stefano (the list goes on and on). The stats certainly say so.
So why is it then, very few people have actually come forward and stated that these two are the greatest of all times period.
I know there are some who have said that Messi is the greatest (like Guardiola, Diego Simeone and Luis Enrique.) and some have said the same of Ronaldo (may privately because I can’t remember any names).
As someone wise (Mark twain was it?) once said “there are lies, then there are outrageous lies and there are statistics”, here is what I think is the reason why Ronaldo and Messi are only referred to as ‘great players’ or ‘one of the all time greats’ or ‘best in the world right now’ and never as ‘definitely amongst the top three players of all times’ by former players or coaches that aren’t affiliated with the same national teams or same clubs as both of them respectively are:
- Ronaldo and Messi both play with the best of the best players beside them. From the goalkeeper, right upto the winger playing along Ronaldo and Messi, it is a coterie of star players bought from every corner of the globe.
Messi has the likes of Suarez and Neymar along with him and Ronaldo has Benzema and Bale to help him out.
Each of these players has the quality to win matches on their own with any respectable team if they chose so.
But when these players are put together on the same team sheet, chaos happens. Just like in Ballon D’or race, everyone else is playing for the third position.
For me, that has never happened before in the history of football. Two teams (Barcelona and Real Madrid) have sucked every inch of quality from every team in the world.
As soon as a player makes a mark on the world stage, these two clubs come knocking on all doors to sign him.
Other clubs are left with “good enoughs” while Real Madrid and Barcelona fight it out amongst themselves for trophy counts.
It wasn’t like that when Ronaldinho played for Barcelona. He had Eto’o but Eto’o wasn’t the best striker in the world.
He was amongst the top five may be. Another example would be of fat Ronaldo. Fat Ronaldo did have Zidane and Figo playing behind him but he had little support in the defense where the speed demon Roberto Carlos would often leave defensive gaps when venturing out to attack the opponent’s goal.
Raul wasn’t a great player at all, just a legend at Real Madrid. So Ronaldo did have some decent players playing along him, he didn’t have the best playing at each position for the same club he played for.
Right now Barcelona and Real Madrid have, arguably, the best attack force, the best midfield, the best back four, probably one of the best goalkeepers and surely the best bench in the world.
That is an anomaly. Again, that has never happened in the history of football and as Luis Suarez would tell you, it is always easy to play with great players than it is to play at a club where you and only you are the central player.
- In the past, players wasted a lot of their years playing in teams with different systems. They played with styles which were not conducive to their real attributes.
Now, with the advancement of scouting and match statistics, players can (same goes for managers) choose to play for teams they know would suit their strong points. Ronaldo and Messi have found the teams who suit their attributes perfectly.
Barcelona made some extraordinary strides to make sure Messi felt at home when playing on the Camp Nou pitch.
From the angle at which the grass was cut to the system all other ten players played in, everything was devised so that Messi (and Ronaldo for Real Madrid, though it is starting to change now) and only Messi would flourish and carry the team forward. In the past it was not like that.
Thierry Henry wasted much time in Serie A and Monaco before he was signed by Arsenal where he became a perpetual goal scoring machine.
The original Ronaldo, also ventured out to many clubs and never really settled. Messi and Ronaldo both have found the league which is suited to their gameplay.
Ronaldo and Messi, both being dribblers are best suited for leagues which don’t allow aggressive tackling and neither allow too much physical football or pay too much attention to strategies against individual players.
La Liga is the best league for both Ronaldo and Messi. Ronaldo proved his worth and scored many goals in EPL as well but his scoring rate at Manchester United was nowhere near to what it is now with Real Madrid.
Same is the case with Lionel Messi who has never grown up to play outside Spain at all.
- Not only both Ronaldo and Messi play with the best players in the world and play in the league which is best suited to their individual traits (past players were much more inclined to test their skills in hostile environments) but they also have the best coaching staff and best managers in the world.
Real Madrid and Barcelona have the best coaching staff, medical staff, training staff and whatever kind of staff you can think of.
Past players like Pele and Maradonna certainly could not have these advantages because they played for teams that were relatively poor (Santos and Napoli respectively). What would the fat Ronaldo have done had his knees been properly treated on?
We’ll never know I guess.
Messi has played under the best managers all his career in the form of Rijkaard and Guardiola while Ronaldo has played under even more impressive list of managers like Mourinho, Pellegrini, Ancelotti, Benitez and Alex Ferguson. It would have been easier for these two to correct the weak spots in their games when compared to past legends.
- With all the advantages at their disposal. Let’s give both Ronaldo and Messi some credit for pure hard work.
Both players have shown immense self discipline and have followed a strict training regiment to make themselves indispensable for their respective players.
Past players liked to indulge themselves in a lot of harmful activities which might have diminished their skills on the pitch.
You would hardly see Messi and Ronaldo missing any training sessions or news about them both partying out all night before a game or something. Players like Ronaldo, Garrincha and to some extent George best along with Maradona were known slackers who did not train as hard as their teammates.
Conversely, no one does or can work as hard as Ronaldo and Messi on fitness and football training.
- I guess this point has already been made but I cannot emphasize this enough, the team’s styles.
Being at the best club in the world is one thing (which many former greats didn’t get) but having that best club in the world change their whole team just to accommodate your style is quite another.
Messi and Ronaldo both have that luxury at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. I can’t remember Arsenal changing their whole team just to benefit and fit in Thierry Henry.
I remember Xavi (in the season Messi scored 73 goals) saying that “ we will pass whenever we can to Messi as we want him to score as many goals as possible”.
Real Madrid did the same with Ronaldo the season before when Real Madrid got knocked out of all the title races and simply played to boost Ronaldo’s goal tally.
I don’t think players in the past obsessed about this as much as these two do.
- Both of Ronaldo and Messi are the bigwigs at their respective clubs. No one says anything to them lest he might be booted out of the club. Ronaldo and Messi take all free kicks, all penalties and probably all indirect free kicks as well. The only exception is when they are injured and magnanimously defer their divine right to someone else on the team.
They are the sole central players in their teams. In the past, every team had two to three central players who played together to make the team tick and function like a well oiled rig.
With Real Madrid and Barcelona, Ronaldo and Messi are the only central players.
That gives them a lot more opportunities to score goals (and make assists) than former legends.
- Ronaldo and Messi are the two most dedicated football players of all times. You never see them do anything of any significance outside of football apart from some commercial ads or charity events (which are actually PR exercises).
They are fully dedicated to their crafts and are fully concentrated at sharpening their craft even more.
They never let up and continue to improve even though both of them have won everything there is to win in football.
Football is their life, not their work. Many of the past legends played football (initially) to escape poverty and once got rich enough, let up to relax themselves on their couches or whatever.
That is not the case with these two. Even at this stage of their career, they look like players who have just arrived the world stage.
Both give it their all every season even though they have scored goals at the rate which no one will ever match again.
Their life revolves around their work, not the other way around. I remember Maradona being bigger than football.
Castro was his best buddy. Pele was involved in a host of other activities aside from football during his heyday.
Garrincha had a bad drinking problem and was known for that back in Brazil. Ronaldo and Messi are big names in football but outside of football, no one knows them and frankly, no one cares about how many more hat tricks both of these score with Real Madrid and Barcelona.
- One other reason is no fault of their own but you cannot ignore the fact that Ronaldo and Messi have been immensely gifted in their physical attributes when it comes to football. Ronaldo is the fastest dribbler of the ball the world has ever seen. In his prime, he was the fastest player in the world.
Messi is still the player who can change direction and accelerate at a pace no one can. These God gifted qualities give them the edge to be the best.
If you look at past legends, there were players who were not given these gifts but actually had to work very hard to make something of themselves.
Ronaldo always had weight problems along with his glass knees. Garrincha had a leg problem, Maradona was short and heavy.
Zidane was physically very weak according to his own admission. Arjen Robben (if we want to talk about modern day football players) trained as a sprinter before coming to football and hence his physique wasn’t perfectly suited to football.
He did manage to become on the best wingers in the world but lets be honest, Robben doesn’t come anywhere near the level of greatness that touches Ronaldo and Messi.
I won’t go into the nitty gritty of how much more technical the game has become or the ball change which might have helped Ronaldo and Messi rack up so many goals because these two factors apply to everyone.
It is a credit to them both that they have outperformed their peers by such a margin.
But to compare them to past legends would be unfair because it does seem like that the world has come together to make sure Ronaldo and Messi have everything available to them (right down to who cleans the toilets at Barcelona and Real Madrid )to be the best at what they do.
Perhaps it would be fitting to state that players from different eras cannot be compared fairly. And that Ronaldo and Messi are the best of their generation, not of all times.