The topic of who is the World’s best player is always an interesting one. The same names tend to come up and it is often a debate centring around who is on form and fit, rather than who is actually the best. For the last 2 years however, there have only been 2 players worth talking about in these terms. Whilst the likes of Andres Iniesta, Kaka and Fernando Torres have their backers; it is now a question of only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. These two players exist on a separate plateau to all others around today; they both have the potential to be seen as not only the best right now, but the best of all time.
The Awards and Records
Lionel Messi is widely regarded as the best in the world; he is the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year as well as the most recent recipient of the prestigious Ballon d’Or award. In 2009, Messi was a key member of the Barcelona side that won La Ligam the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the European Super Cup, the Spanish Supercup and the FIFA Club World Cup. It was a truly astonishing year for Barcelona and Messi; he finished the 2008-09 season with a brilliant record of 38 goals and 18 assists.
Cristiano Ronaldo is the former FIFA World Player of the Year and indeed the man to who have received the Ballon d’Or before Messi; he broke all records over the summer when he moved to Real Madrid for £80million. In the 2007-08 season he scored an unprecedented 42 goals in 49 appearances for Manchester United. Despite a slightly less than stellar final year with United, he was still the key man in the side that won 3 league titles running in addition to a Champions League triumph and a FIFA Club World Cup. He has begun his Madrid career in sparkling form with 13 goals in as many games.
Watching either of these men play is a privilege; technically both are near-perfect, but despite playing similar positions, they are very different players.
Lionel Messi stands at 5ft 7in, he relies on his quick feet and speed to make an impact in games. He is the most accomplished dribbler of a football and has brilliant vision. He drifts in from the right flank with devastating ease and is resilient enough to deal with any rough treatment he is dealt. Messi is not a player that dominates games; he flits in and out of the action like a rapier; for Barcelona it is the central midfielders who are the playmakers; Messi has the freedom to roam and damage defenders without warning. He is reliable in front of goal and has become more responsible defensively, he is willing to track back and help his full-back out.
Ronaldo stands at an imposing 6ft 1in; he arrived at Manchester United as a scrawny show-pony, but has developed into a powerful, quick forward and is the most productive and efficient player in the world. He is skilful, but rarely uses his tricks to beat defenders anymore. His pace and strength are enough to blow past any defender; his long-range shooting is fantastic and he is a constant threat from free-kicks. In addition to that, his crossing is very good and he is a formidable opponent in the air.
As with all players, even these two are not perfect.
Messi, for all his brilliance has only reached the heights that he has done at Barcelona. With the Catalan club, the team is set up in a way that maximises Messi’s impact. He can roam free in the knowledge that the team is filled with players who can keep the ball and create chances. He is not the central cog; that honour goes to Xavi. This is most exposed when Messi turns out for Argentina; with them he is asked to be the central figure and the leader, and it is not a role he is accustomed to. When he has to drop deep for the ball he can easily be crowded out of possession and Argentina’s struggles can be traced back to an overreliance on him. Messi is a phenomenal player in a side that is set up to get the best out of him; whether he could sustain his high level of performance for another team is questionable.
Ronaldo is a different player altogether; he is the central cog to any attack and as such does not suffer from the same problem as Messi. Ronaldo’s main vice is his temperament; he is a petulant player and has already picked up his first red card for Madrid. In his final season at United, it was easy to lose count of the number of times he kicked out at opponents; fortunately for him he rarely made contact and escaped punishment on the whole. Whereas Messi tends to respond to rough treatment with more determination; Ronaldo’s performances can suffer if he feels he is not being afforded enough protection by the referee. Ronaldo is also not as willing to track back as Messi is.
It goes without saying that both are great players, but when it comes to who is the best, I would say Ronaldo; though I prefer to watch Messi in action. I have chosen Ronaldo for his ability to carry a side; watching Manchester United this season can often be a tedious experience compared to the side that Ronaldo dominated. His ability and personality is such that you could place him into any side in the Premier League’s top 8 and they would have a strong chance of winning the league with him in their side.
Do you agree with the verdict? Or is there another player that you consider to be the greatest right now?