Lionel Messi should not be considered amongst the top three players of all time. Why?

To make it easier to comprehend, lets try and figure out examples cross sports to find out what actually makes a ‘greatest of all times’ player.

Obviously, the only worthy example is that of Muhammad Ali who is considered, more than any other athlete in any sport, unanimously to be the greatest heavyweight boxer of all times.

By studying his career in boxing, it can be clearly observed that Messi has ‘some’ of the traits that are found only in the best of the best players.

What is also noticeable is how Ronaldo (and some former players like Zidane, Figo and the Brazilian Ronaldo) have more claim to the all time great than Messi.

Here are the qualities that can be drawn from Muhammad Ali that would help to understand why Lionel Messi has not done it all in football and why Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid should be ranked above Lionel Messi of Barcelona:

  • If you even go through and touch the crust of what has been written on Muhammad Ali, you would quickly arrive at the conclusion that Ali did not have the best of technique in anything. In many ways, Muhammad Ali did everything wrong in the ring such as keeping his hands too low and pulling back instead of bobbing and weaving to get away from punches.

    This indicates that to be the greatest of all time you don’t necessarily need a perfect technique or even the best technique amongst your peers.Many so called pundits give Messi the title of “one of the best players of all time” on the simple fact that his technique is unmatched.

    That is true but it does a total of naught for his claim to the top three spots for the greatest of all times in football.

    Real Madrid’s Ronaldo on the other hand does not have the best of techniques. He can’t shoot from most angles, his curve shots are weak, his passing his mediocre when compared to some of the better players in the world right now.

    There are at least five to six players in the world of football at the moment who have better technique on the ball than Ronaldo (examples include the one and only Messi, Suarez, Ibrahimovic, Pirlo, James, Neymar etc) so does that mean that Ronaldo ranks even below these fellows in the all time greats list? No it does not.

    As Muhammad Ali’s case shows, technique is not the yardstick for measuring a player’s greatness in any sport.

    So that is one area where the case for greatest of all time becomes stronger for Ronaldo and weaker for Messi.

    It raises questions about the argument of Messi being superior to Ronaldo just because Messi has the superior technique.

  • Muhammad Ali did not win the most number of championships.

    He won the ultimate prize three times only and that too because he lost the title belt two times before that.

    There were many heavyweights who reigned over heavyweight boxing, unbeaten, for way more years than Muhammad Ali and yet it is Muhammad Ali who is considered the greatest by far more pundits of boxing than any other player in any other sport.

    So the case of Messi being the amongst the top three greatest is not valid just because he won four (and soon to be five) Ballon Dors.

    They simply do not matter when it comes to the debate of greatest of all times. Messi can win another four and it still would not help his claim on the throne since he is consistently avoiding the achievements that would actually strengthen his claim on the ultimate title.

    Ronaldo on the other hand does not have as many individual awards as Messi but one could make the case that he is probably greater than Messi in terms of achievements in adverse conditions against tough opponents while he played for teams that were considerably weaker than the opponents they faced.

    Ronaldo is much more of a team player than Lionel Messi. Ronaldo’s style of play does not demand his employer club to change its philosophy of football just to accommodate his game.
    And that is the mark of a true champion that he is able to thrive in any condition and any environment.

    That is the reason why Ali was considered the greatest as he was not dependant on anything else but his ability to box.

    He didn’t have the best of trainers, he didn’t have the best of staff and he certainly did not have a favorite venue to punish his opponents (unlike Messi, who has chosen Camp Nou to be his hunting ground so no matter what teams do to Barcelona away from home, they always get punished at Camp Nou which has been specifically maintained for Messi’s strength points). Same is the case with Ronaldo.

    Ronaldo does not need Bernabeu to destroy opponents. Neither did he ever need Old Trafford to punish teams in Champions League or the league.

    Messi is markedly a weaker player on the pitch whenever he plays away from home.

    No wonder that most of Messi’s best performances of Lionel Messi have come at Camp Nou (or in Spain) and not in Stanford Bridge or Old Trafford.

    Muhammad Ali’s example again strenghthens the case for Ronaldo to be ranked above Lionel Messi.

  • Muhammad Ali’s career record was not even close to being the best amongst great boxers. There were many boxers who had better record than Muhammad Ali e.g Lennox Lewis, Larry Holmes before 38, Evander Holyfield at the same age, Riddick Bowe, Joe Louis, Floyd Mayweather etc etc.

    But Ali was considered the best of all time. Why? Because Ali took on the biggest and baddest men on the planet when they were in their prime.

    He didn’t look for ‘ideal’ moments to beat opponents. He beat them when people demanded him to beat them.

    And Muhammad Ali beat them all (and got beat as well but that is not how boxing works). Lionel Messi has been, for a long time now, ducking the exact things he needs to do in order to strengthen his case as the greatest player of all time i.e leave Barcelona, play in the EPL and play for a team that isn’t already dominating the world of football. Even before Lionel Messi came to Barcelona, Barcelona was already dominating Europe and La Liga.

    Messi just nudged it to win some more and who knows what Ronaldinho & Rivaldo would have achieved with Barcelona had they been given the same squad as Messi was given.
    Ronaldo came to Manchester United when Manchester United had little influence in European football.

    When Manchester United had to face multiple legitimate threats to its title from teams such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

    Ronaldo picked Manchester United up in the Champions League and almost won it two Champions League crown in a space of five years.

    There were no Xavi’s and Iniesta’s playing behind Ronaldo when he was doing so much for Manchester United.

    Ronaldo had an old scholes (he wasn’t that good to being with), Giggs and Carrick who are nowhere near great players.

    Giggs was a speedster in his prime but when he played with Ronaldo, he was only there was a assister rather than someone who could win a game with a swing of his stroke. Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, Eto’o and the list goes on and on of players who could have won trophies on their own if they were anywhere but Barcelona playing second fiddle to the mighty Messi who kept on racking up goal after goal, season after season.

    People who make a case for Lionel Messi being greater than Ronaldo because Messi has better goals record are seriously deluded as Muhammad Ali’s example shows.
    Ronaldo does not have a record that is as good as Messi’s but one should take into account the fact that Ronaldo did not start off as a forward in his early days.

    Ronaldo was an out and out winger in his early days at Sporting and Manchester United.

    Messi on the other hand had been given his best position on a plate since the second he put foot on Camp Nou’s lush green field.

    Again, Muhammad Ali’s not-the-greatest record as far as wins vs losses in concerned weakens the case for Messi as being the greatest and strengthens the case for Ronaldo as being amongst the greatest of all times.


So after exposing many flaws ( on paper) in Muhammad Ali’s and Ronaldo’s record, some might be mislead into thinking that Messi is indeed amongst the greatest of all times, at least higher in rank than Ronaldo.

Sadly that seems to be not the case. Muhammad Ali was considered the greatest despite all those ‘holes’ in his resume and the same could happen for Ronaldo if he continues to work hard and performs against all odds against tough teams.

This also shows that as pretty as Messi’s resume looks (a similar case in boxing could be made for Floyd Mayweather and Riddick Bowe) on paper, it is not enough for him to be considered the greatest of all times.

Muhammad Ali took risks. No one put a gun in his mouth to take on players in their prime when Ali was well past his (examples include George Foreman, Ken Norton and to some extent Joe Frazier along with Ron Lyle and Earnie Shavers).

But Muhammad Ali did do that to push himself. To see how good he really was, even without his once great speed and reflexes.

Similarly, nobody had a gun pointed at Ronaldo to make him leave Manchester United when he was all set there.

He knows the playing style of EPL, he had thrived in it. The fans and his teammates respected him there and Ronaldo had a comfortable role in that Manchester United team.

Why did Ronaldo choose to leave all that, to start over again at Real Madrid? Why did he take such a big risk?

What if Ronaldo hadn’t adapted so well at Real Madrid? There was a huge possibility that Ronaldo could have been a huge flop at Real Madrid since he didn’t know there style and had never played in Spain before. But Ronaldo took that risk and now is reaping the rewards.

Messi, at the very least, as to change clubs at least once before his career is over.

Is Messi the greatest dribbler of all time? Probably Yes. Has Messi won more than any other player of his generation or a generation before him? Yes.

Does Messi kill off his opponents, on his day, more ruthlessly than anyone else before him in the history of the game? Yes.

Has Messi scored the most number of hat tricks, most number of assists, most number of goals in a season, most Champions League, most Ballon Dors? Yes

Is Messi the greatest player of all time? No. Far from it.

Barcelona fans would harangue me for this because Barcelona is so dependant on Messi to win titles.

But that would not change the fact that Messi has to , at this moment in his career, leave Barcelona and show to the world that he can emulate his greatness with Barcelona, at any other decent club in the world.

That would be point when Messi would truly surpass Ronaldo on the list of all time great players.

In the end, being the greatest player of all times is about grit and hard work. It is about pushing oneself to the limits when one doesn’t have to and working with the cards that were dealt to you at birth.

Ronaldo has, so far,  handled his situation better than Messi it seems. Messi has been satisfied with himself for being at the same club since he was, may be five years old or six years old.

That may be reasonable if Messi wants himself to be remembered amongst players such as Totti or Scholes or Henry even but not enough if he wants to lay a claim on the throne of ‘greatest of all time’.

There is a reason why Real Madrid has put a price of 1 billion euros in Ronaldo’s contract and Florentino Perez made it clear to everyone yesterday when he reiterated that anyone can sign Ronaldo buy coughing up 1 billion euros for him.

Can Lionel Messi perform at the same level in EPL? Just to take an example, Liverpool is in a dire situation right now.

Liverpool, this season at least, is not expected to win the league and sure as hell it isn’t expected to win the Champions League. Can Messi move to Liverpool next season or may be even after the next season and bring Liverpool back to its former glory?

No one knows. Why? Because, Messi likes to play it safe. Can Ronaldo perform in EPL? Hell yes. Because he has done it before. Can Ronaldo perform in La Liga? A sure yes is the answer.

Can Ronaldo take Portugal to a respectable finish at the Euros, no one knows but at least Ronaldo is giving it a shot.

Time is right now, for Lionel Messi to give a shot to something other than Barcelona in his career.


P.S good luck to Rafa Benitez in finalizing his starting eleven for this weekend as James Rodriguez was injured on international duty with Colombia. That can only benefit Isco or Jese or Kovacic or Casemiro. See, not many players choose from.

Photo by cliff1066™