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The stats-driven head-to-head matchup between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo determines who is the greatest player in football history | Goalcom US


A serious discussion point on five-a-side pitches and barstools across the world, the issue of which player is the greatest of all time persists

Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi - who is the GOAT? It is the biggest conundrum in football since the 'Diego Maradona or Pele?' debate.

The question of who is better between the Portuguese phenomenon and the empyrean Argentine has dominated the minds of football fans everywhere for the past decade and will persist into the future.

Club and national loyalties can cloud judgement on the matter, while personalities also play a part in how good a player is perceived to be, and most people know who they'd pick.

So who really is the greatest of all time? Never mind who you prefer, GOAL has taken a look at how the pair actually shape up head-to-head so you can be fully armed with facts in the eternal argument. 

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    Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Club goals

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    Ronaldo has scored more club goals than Messi, but only just and it should be noted that the Manchester United star benefits from having played two more seasons than his Argentine nemesis thus far.

    Each of them has remarkably netted over 690 club goals in their career so far, with the five seasons between 2009-10 and 2014-15 proving particularly golden as they pushed each other to greater heights.

    While Ronaldo currently has more goals overall, Messi has the edge in the scoring department, with a higher season average (37.9 to 35), having hit a high of 73 goals in 2011-12, though his average dropped after a disappointing maiden campaign at PSG in 2021-22.

    Ronaldo's highest season return was 61, which he achieved in 2014-15, and he surpassed the 50-goal mark every season for six years between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

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    Interestingly, while Ronaldo's seasonal totals have declined somewhat in recent years - he failed to break the 30-goal mark in 2018-19 during his first season at Juventus - Messi's have remained consistent, though the Argentine's rate slowed after joining PSG.

    Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Club assists (Opta)

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    When it comes to assists, Messi is much superior to Ronaldo and that contrast has become increasingly stark as their respective roles evolve.

    The fact that Messi creates so many goals as well as scoring them is a major consideration when deciding which player is the GOAT and, while Ronaldo chips in with his fair share, the difference in this particular realm is stark.

    Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Champions League stats

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    *As of Champions League games played in 2022-23.

    Ronaldo is the all-time leading goalscorer in the Champions League, having shone in the competition with Manchester United and Real Madrid in particular.

    However, Messi isn't far behind and actually has a fractionally better goal-per-game ratio, so there is a good chance that he could overtake the Man United man if he continues to sparkle in the competition .

    Ronaldo also holds the record for most overall Champions League appearances, having overtaken Iker Casillas.

    Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: World Cup stats

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    When it comes to World Cups, neither had won the competition until Argentina emerged victorious in 2022 following a string of sublime displays from Messi.

    Portugal star Ronaldo had scored more goals and in fewer appearances heading into the 2022 World Cup, but Messi turned things around in Qatar as he led his country the way to the coveted trophy with an impressive seven goals and three assists.

    The PSG ace scored at every stage of the competition and capped his fine performances with a brace in the final against France, before netting once more from 12 yards as Argentina proved to be the best after spot kicks (3-3 AET).

    The furthest Ronaldo has reached with Portugal was the Selecao's run to the semi-final in 2006, when they were beaten by France before losing the third-place play-off against Germany.Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: International stats

    Ronaldo and Messi have fairly similar records at international level, though Ronaldo boasts greater numbers, partly because his senior Portugal career kicked off two years before Messi's with Argentina.

    Ronaldo equalled Ali Daei's record of 109 international goals at Euro 2020 and then surpassed it with two goals against the Republic of Ireland, becoming the top international goalscorer of all time.

    Messi is still a long way behind Ronaldo in that respect, though he is by some distance Argentina's top goal-scorer of all time, surpassing the great Gabriel Batistuta some years ago.

    Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Titles

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    *National Cups refers to the main national cup competition in a country only, e.g. the FA Cup, Copa del Rey etc.

    Messi and Ronaldo have similar enough trophy hauls, but Messi edges things when it comes to league titles, having won La Liga 10 times with Barcelona and Ligue 1 once with PSG. Ronaldo has seven league titles, but unlike Messi, he can claim to have won the league in three different countries (England, Spain and Italy) - something that increases his claim to the GOAT crown in the eyes of some.

    Ronaldo has an edge over Messi in the Champions League, his love affair with the competition earning him the moniker 'Mr Champions League'. The Manchester United star has also enjoyed notable success on the international stage with Portugal, winning the European Championship and the UEFA Nations League.

    Messi endured considerable heartache with Argentina early on in his international career, with four unsuccessful Copa America campaigns, three of which saw them lose in the final. But he finally got his hands on the Copa in 2021, before going to win the 2022 Finalissima and then the 2022 World Cup. Additionally, Messi has an Olympic gold medal.

    Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Individual awards

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    The individual battle between Ronaldo and Messi has been the defining feature of modern football for the past decade and more.

    Messi went ahead of Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or stakes when he won his sixth in 2019 and cemented his superior status in that field with his seventh in 2021.

    Ronaldo does boast more of FIFA's new 'The Best' awards and has been crowned UEFA Player of the Year on more occasions, but Messi has won more league Player of the Year accolades. Of course, it must be said that Ronaldo has won the Player of the Year award in England, Spain and Italy.

    Messi has got his hands on the European Golden Shoe a record six times, which is two more than Ronaldo, and is marginally ahead of his rival overall, but the fact that both have been on the FIFPro World XI 14 times is an illustration of how closely fought the battle has been.

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