We have tried to establish the fact that Messi is not the runaway greatest player of all time as some Barcelona fans along with journalists working for Sky Sports would have you believe. 

That does not mean Messi isn’t great. 

He is. 

But that is the whole point of this discussion. Messi is one of the greatest players of all time. There is no way for anyone to just proclaim that Messi is the greatest player of all time hands down. Nope. 

That is not how these things work. Roberto Carlos doesn’t think Messi is the greatest, Rio Ferdinand doesn’t think so, neither does Deco nor Drogba. 

So if Messi is not the greatest player of all time then who is? 

Well, there are a lot of candidates for that title and you can make a case for any number of them as being the greatest player of all time. 

While you can write an entire book on why each of the candidates listed below has a strong case for being the GOAT, we’ll stick to the highlights of their accomplishments that make them at least as deserving of the GOAT title as Messi.

Let’s take a look at the top five GOAT candidates. 

Cristiano Ronaldo

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  • Has won five World Player of the Year awards. That number is the same as Messi. So if we’re going to say that Messi is better than Ronaldo than that would be straight up unfair.
    He scored the same number of goals per season as Messi when he was at Real Madrid. Then he left for Juventus and now he scores half as much. That should tell you a lot about what would happen if Messi happens to leave Barcelona for a league as defensive as Serie A.
    Of course, Messi doesn’t have to play in Serie A to prove himself capable of scoring an obscene number of goals every season.
    He can go to the English Premier League as well if he chooses.
    It is another matter that he won’t do that since he probably knows his charade of having ‘great skills on the ball’ and ball control would likely get destroyed inside the first half of the season. 
  • Ronaldo has scored in more finals than Messi.
    So if we are judging the greatest players by how many goals they have scored at the greatest of stages at the greatest of times, then Ronaldo is the winner by far.
    He has scored important goals in finals for both club and country.
    Messi hasn’t really done anything of note with Argentina.
    Yes, he has come close to doing something worthwhile as Argentina finished many Copa America competitions on a high note. Messi also helped Argentina get to the final of the World Cup as well.
    Sadly, that means very little when we are comparing two GOAT players. 
  • Ronaldo has proven himself in all leagues.
    And Messi hasn’t.
  • Has a more complete game than Messi.
    One will have to look at the records more closely to see how many times Ronaldo has scored the perfect hat trick (one goal with the right foot, another with the left foot and another with the head).
    Messi can clearly dribble better than Ronaldo. His free kicks are better than Ronaldo’s as well.
    But in terms of having more weapons at one’s disposable, Ronaldo clearly has the edge.
    And perhaps that is the reason why Ronaldo is able to score important goals in tight games whereas Messi has historically not performed at the same levels as he usually does when it comes to these tight games. 
  • Ronaldo has scored the most number of goals in the Champions League.
    One of the other statistics that Messi followers usually bring up is his number of goals.
    Yes, Messi has scored a lot of goals.
    But most of them are meaningless goals.
    No one is going to give you credit if you keep scoring goals and hat tricks against La Liga sides that can’t even field 11 professional football players and pay them their wages.
    When it comes to talking about the greatest players of all time, we have to look past that and count the goals they have scored in more difficult competition and against stronger opposing teams.
    In that race, Ronaldo has the lead as the leading scorer in the Champions League.
    That stat is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Ronaldo played as a pure winger for Manchester United for much of his career there.
    It was only towards the end of his Manchester United days that he transformed into a free-role number 9 position.
    On the other hand, Messi has played in a similar position for the whole of his life and still has not managed as many goals as Ronaldo in top competitions.
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Ronaldo

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  • Won Brazil a World Cup. That alone should be enough to have a bit of a debate about which of Ronaldo or Messi is the greatest player of all time.
    When we say Ronaldo won Brazil a World Cup, we do mean that he won Brazil the World Cup. He scored some of the most important goals for Brazil in 2002.
    That is different from what Messi does at Argentina.
    Firstly, he rarely performs for Argentina. But even when he does, he is only able to ‘help’ his side rather than take charge, score a goal and win Argentina some silverware.
  • In terms of raw talent, Ronaldo is probably above Messi.
    Of course, it is Ronaldo’s own fault that he was not able to keep himself fit for long enough to have a chance of scoring thousands of goals and win several Player of the Year awards rather than just three.
    It is also true that some of the injuries that Ronaldo sustained were unfortunate in the sense that there was nothing that Ronaldo could do about them.
    Messi deserves a lot of credit in this department. He has kept himself in peak physical condition and has taken care of his mental health long enough to play at the highest level of football for such a long period of time.
    But if we are talking about a single football player being able to impact a game in the real sense without any help from teammates then Ronaldo and Messi are much closer to each other than many realize.
  • Ronaldo has performed for both club and country.
    Again, the same can’t be said for Messi. Sometimes, it really feels like Messi was born to play for Barcelona.
    And no one else.
    Not Argentina.
    Not Boca Juniors.
    And certainly not any other club that may play in Serie A or La Liga. 
  • Apart from that, we know for a fact that Ronaldo is the most independent of players on a football field. What does that even mean? Well, it means that Ronaldo does not require a system nor good teammates to score good goals.
    Cristiano Ronaldo is also pretty good at this particular quality. But, from time to time, he too requires teammates to make runs that would open up spaces for him.
    The old Ronaldo, throughout his career, rarely needed his teammates when he wanted to score great goals.
    Of course, fitness problems along with motivational issues held him back.
    Even then, many consider him to be the greatest player of all time. 

Pele

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Before the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, much of the football community considered Pele as the greatest player of all time. 

He had scored over a thousand goals and had won three World Cup tournaments. He also scored some amazing solo goals. 

Detractors of Pele always jump at the chance of mentioning that defenders in those days simply did not train hard enough. Players were also not fast enough. And there was not a lot of competition. 

But they fail to understand that it goes the other way around as well. If Messi has to face more competitive players today then that is because Messi himself is pretty competitive as well. 

If defenders have access to better training, better nutrition, better knowledge, and medical equipment then that holds true for Messi as well. 

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There is no doubt that defenders playing in the days of Pele did not have such advantages. 

But Pele did not have these either. 

In the end, it all evens out. 

Now, it should be easy for you to understand how comparing players from different eras, different teams and different positions is so difficult. 

In the current environment though, the easiest way to compare two players is to see how many trophies they have won, what they did for their team to win the trophy and how many goals they have scored. 

That is the only way. 

And if we move forward with that way, it is easy to see why many still see Pele as the greatest player of all time. 

He has scored a ton of goals, against the best sides and in the most important of tournaments. 

Can Messi claim the same? 

Not really. 

In fact, if we’re being honest, Messi should be disqualified from any debate involving GOAT players for the simple reason that he has never played for a weak side.
So we don’t really know how Messi would perform if he did not have the world’s best players not only playing alongside him but also playing to his strengths. 

This is perhaps the biggest problem one has when trying to compare Messi with Ronaldo and others. 

However, the other side of this debate is also true. 

Some great players are unable to transition to a bigger and better team. 

The prime example of that is Maradona. We’ll come to him in a later section. 

For now, we would wager that Pele has done more for club and country than Messi has and therefore deserves a place in the GOAT debate which is above Messi.

Zidane

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There are very few players, if any, who can dominate the field of play without speed and agility. 

Messi and Ronaldo are the greatest players of their generation precisely because they are the fastest. 

Yes, there are other players who are faster than them but those players either lack ball control or the sense of how one is supposed to use his speed and agility. 

Zidane, is a one-off player for the simple reason that he rarely used speed and agility to have an impact on a given game. 

He was never the fastest player on the pitch. Neither was he the most agile. 

He did have a smart head on his shoulders though. And he used it to its potential. 

Zidane, unlike Messi, scored important goals in important games, away from home while playing for a weaker opposition against good sides. 

This alone should put him above Messi in the GOAT debate. 

Yes, Messi scores more goals in a season than Zidane did in his whole career. But how many of Messi’s goals have won Barcelona trophies? Not many. 

Whenever Zidane was placed in a team’s engine, that team automatically created opportunities and scored goals. 

Zidane was more of an enabler rather than a finisher. 

Messi followers would point out that Messi also creates goals (in addition to scoring them). That is true. But only on paper. 

If you actually watch the footage of Zidane’s playmaking abilities and Messi’s, you will find that Messi’s playmaking abilities are far inferior to Zidane’s. 

In fact, the gap between Zidane’s and Messi’s playmaking abilities may be bigger than the gap between Messi’s and Zidane’s goal-scoring abilities. 

All of this means that Zidane can arguably be considered the greatest player of all time as well. 

Maradona

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Where do we start with this? 

Obviously the World Cup. You don’t need to know much else about Maradona except for the fact that he won a weak Argentina side, the World Cup. 

As mentioned before as well, Messi still has not done that and there are no signs that he ever will. 

Maradona is well and truly a galactico in the sense that he can play in a weak team and perform against stronger teams. 

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The only problem with Maradona being the GOAT is that he was not able to replicate his success at Barcelona. Moreover, he did not have the same longevity as some of the other GOATs on this list. 

Talking about Maradona as being the GOAT actually strengthens the case for Messi as the GOAT. 

But how? 

Well, we often criticize Messi for playing for the best team in the world and that too for the whole of his career. We also argue that Messi would not have had the same success had he played for a lesser side. 

Well, Maradona’s career shows that it isn’t always a given that you will perform better in a stronger side than a weaker side. 

Maradona played two seasonsfor Barcelona and was dreadful (relatively speaking.We’re comparing him to other GOAT galacticos at the moment). He went to Napoli then (a weak side) and won the League Championship with them single-handedly. 

It seems to us that Maradona thrived on playing for a minnow side. 

It is also true that we believe if performing well for a weaker side is a skill then performing for a strong side is also a skill. 

When you are playing for a weak side, you don’t have to deal with the pressure of winning as much as you would while playing for a strong side. 

Moreover, you do not have to think about other players that much in a weaker side because chances are, all the other players are at least a league below you. 

But playing for a stronger side means you have to compete more and have to take on more pressure. 

Messi is able to perform for the biggest club in the world without breaking a sweat. Maradona was able to perform for weak sides like Boca Juniors and Napoli without facing any problems. 

In other words, both have chinks in their GOAT resumes. 

Compare that to Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo, and Zidane. All four of them performed well when they played for weaker sides. But they also performed when they finally managed to get themselves moved to stronger sides. 

Messi, for one reason or another, doesn’t see that as a problem. And that’s okay. 

He can continue to delude himself. 

But long after he has retired, people are always going to raise this question of whether or not Messi would have been to perform at the club level with a weaker side. 

We already have hints that Messi relies on strong players playing a brand of football that suits his strength points. And when he doesn’t have strong players playing under him (rather than playing with him), he fails. 

A prime example is that of when Messi plays for Argentina. 

Now, mind you, Argentina has never been a weak side under Messi. 

He always has had world-class players supporting him in attack. 

But we know for a fact that Argentina, at the international level, is not as good as Barcelona at the club level. 

Yet, even a slight drop in the quality of players Messi has to play with results in him not being able to dictate play and score his solo-goals on a regular basis to win stuff. 

But, Again, what about Messi?

Messi is a tremendous player. 

Without a shadow of a doubt, Messi is one of the greatest players of all time

He has won so much with Barcelona and continues to do so without any loss in motivation or ambition. 

Messi has also managed to stay fit for so long, that in itself is an achievement. 

Then there is the fact that he has won so many World Player of the Year awards and Champions League titles.

Our contention is that people (no matter how low their numbers might be) need to stop putting Messi and Ronaldo at 1 and 2 (or 2 and 1). 

The debate is still wide open depending on how these two perform at the international level. 

All signs indicate that neither Messi or Ronaldo will be able to do what Brazillian Ronaldo and Pele did at the international level.