Team player Messi always a level above egotist Cristiano

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Argentina captain Lionel Messi lifts the FIFA World Cup trophy following victory over France in the FIFA World Cup Final.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi lifts the FIFA World Cup trophy following victory over France in the FIFA World Cup Final.

At last, the greatest waste of hot air since the RHI scandal has dissipated, been blown away.

There two types of people in this world: those who understand football and those who ask ‘Messi or Ronaldo?’

Yet long before Messi led Argentina to World Cup triumph on Sunday, that was one of the daftest questions ever.

I rarely wasted breath engaging in this discussion. Even had France edged through on Sunday Messi would still have been a level above his supposed rival.

I genuinely believe that no one seriously suggested that Cristiano Ronaldo was a superior footballer to Lionel Messi unless they fell into one of the following categories (some of which may have over-lapped):

Portuguese or Brazilian; Sporting Lisbon supporter; Manchester United fan; Real Madrid follower; Juventus groupie; dazzled by glamour; and/ or fancied Ronaldo. Shudders.

I don’t even like calling him ‘Ronaldo’ as it tarnishes the memory of a better footballer than Cristiano, the great Brazilian. Injuries and poor lifestyle ravaged the real Ronaldo, but he did win one World Cup (2002) and illness perhaps prevented him winning the previous final. He also was in the 1994 World Cup squad, as a mere 17-year-old, but did not play as Brazil won.

Forget any moral debates. Both Messi and Cristiano are driven by rapacious lust for money.

On the purely footballing front, Messi has always been obviously superior to Cristiano. Neutrals acknowledge that.

In terms of goalscoring, Cristiano has scored more – but in more matches. Messi has a higher goals per game ratio.

Yet it’s when you consider the all-round impact, the fact that football is a team game, that Messi soars above Cristiano.

His number of assists far outnumber those of the greedy, self-absorbed Cristiano.

Cristiano has never been a team player. It has always been all about him, from the early days of pointless step-overs to his latter years of lazy goal-hanging.

The great Alex Ferguson made him work for Manchester United to some extent, but even then Cristiano had Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, among others, sacrificing their games for the greater good.

Messi’s work-rate has waned in recent years, but look at his touch map from the World Cup Final. He was all over the place, in a great way.

Better still, if you have a day or two to spare, look at all the goals he has created over the years.

Messi doesn’t just provide assists, but ‘pre-assists’ – those incisive passes which somehow find an overlapping full-back, or a midfielder breaking through defensive lines, who then has the fairly easy task of setting up another colleague to score a goal.

Look back at his dribble past Croatia’s excellent Josko Gvardiol in the semi-final. Cristiano would never have passed in that situation, preferring to try to score a glory goal.

Cristiano is highly skilled, sure, but he’s more about pace and physique. Brawn to Messi’s brain.

The little Argentine is a footballing super-computer. His reading of the game is exceptional.

The argument that ‘Ronaldo has done it in different leagues’ doesn’t bear much scrutiny: he went to the biggest club in England, then to the most successful club in Spain, then to the most successful club in Italy.

Talk about stretching yourself.

The implication is that Messi is the footballing equivalent of a ‘flat-track bully’, but that’s a jibe that applies equally to Cristiano.

Lots of stats get thrown about, but this one is telling: ‘goals scored against the English Premier League top six.’

Top of that pile is Jamie Vardy with 37, followed by Eden Hazard, then Cristiano on 28.

Messi ‘only’ has 26, the same as Harry Kane.

But Messi, of course, has never played in the Premier League. And still…

His 26 goals have come at the top level of European football, the Champions League.

Yes, Barcelona are mostly involved in a La Liga duopoly with Real Madrid – but something similar can be said for all the clubs Cristiano has played for.

Manchester United were utterly dominant in England when Cristiano arrived at Old Trafford, having won eight of 11 Premierships. In his first spell there they won three, in six seasons.

He did help them to a Champions League triumph, but that was as part of a superb all-round team, one that was only bettered in Europe in the latter part of that decade by Messi’s Barcelona.

His much-heralded return to the Red Devils ended in disaster.

Had he retired in the summer he wouldn’t have tarnished his legacy as much as he has done in the latter half of this year.

There’s an argument that while Messi makes teams better, Cristiano makes them worse.

Before Messi, Barcelona won 16 La Liga titles in 72 seasons and one European Cup. In his 17 senior seasons at Camp Nou, they were Spanish champions 10 times, and won four Champions Leagues.

Before Cristiano, Real Madrid had been champions 31 times in 77 seasons; a 40 per cent success rate. While he was there, they only won La Liga twice in nine seasons.

Of course, they won a remarkable four Champions Leagues in that time – but he failed miserably to bring that trophy to Juventus.

In contrast, Messi has enhanced his already stellar reputation.

The greatest of his generation? That’s beyond dispute.

The greatest of all, though? That debate remains open.

NI footballer Ryan McLaughlin – a self-confessed Messi worshipper – put it very well when he said that Cristiano’s greatest achievement was simply to be compared to the little Argentinian.

Hopefully the end of the utterly unnecessary ‘Messi or Ronaldo?’ debate will somewhat reduce the silly comparisons that are constantly carried out about players.

Perhaps those who embarrassed themselves by querying the quality of Kylian Mbappe after a couple of quiet games will have learned a lesson.

It was blindingly obvious that the attention England and Morocco gave to Mbappe freed up room for Antoine Griezmann to exert influence and, most importantly, for France to win those games.

Mbappe only turned 24 yesterday. He has already appeared in two World Cup Finals, winning one, scoring a hat-trick in the other.

Sure, he isn’t as good as Messi - but that’s not a very helpful comparison, is it?

Messi Christmas, everyone.