Who is the GOAT?

  • Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are widely regarded as the all-time greats
  • Both players have their armies of loyal supporters when it comes to the GOAT debate
  • Which superstar reigns supreme when all things are considered?
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have always been rivals
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have always been rivals / AFP Contributor/GettyImages

When the debate arises over the greatest of all time, only two names normally crop up: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The two superstars are undoubtedly the best players the 21st century has seen and have often had to share the limelight as they attempted to one-up each other on the field with their genius. While their powers have waned in recent years, they still steal attention wherever they go.

Few arguments are fought as fiercely when it comes to crowning one of these heavyweights as the greatest fans have ever seen, with their brilliance often splitting opinion.

So, with a little help from the stats and some former pros, let's answer the GOAT debate.

What do the stats say?

Messi and Ronaldo boast some frightening stats / FRANCK FIFE/GettyImages

Well, let's start simple. Ronaldo is three years older than Messi and has unsurprisingly played more football over his illustrious career. He has played in over 1,200 matches for club and country - excluding appearances at the Olympics and youth team level for Portugal - while his Argentinian rival has over 1,000 appearances to his name.

Given he has played just under 150 more games than Messi, it makes sense that Ronaldo also leads the way for goals with 879 to his counterpart's 836. However, in terms of goals per game, it's Messi who triumphs with a rate of 0.77 strikes per match compared to Ronaldo's 0.73.

Given their play styles, one would guess Messi has the greater assist total and that would be correct. The former Barcelona star has often dazzled with his creativity on that right wing, producing an astonishing 405 assists. Ronaldo has often been used more as a goal-getter than a facilitator and that is evident in his assist stats, with just 283 over the years.

Career stats


Lionel Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo







Goals per game






Assists per game



What do their trophy cabinets say?

Champions League Final - FC Barcelona
Messi tops the title rankings / VI-Images/GettyImages

When it come to team accolades, once again it is Messi who leads the way. He's won 41 major pieces of silverware across his career - including domestic and European super cup competitions - with four Champions League titles, 12 domestic league titles and two international trophies - the Copa America and FIFA World Cup.

Ronaldo still has a glistening trophy cabinet but it isn't quite as deep. He has 34 team trophies to boast, with one more Champions League to his name than Messi. He has also won a greater variety of competitions given his European travels, as well as the UEFA European Championship and the UEFA Nations League with Portugal.

Given the wide array of individual awards available to players, the only fair way to measure Ronaldo and Messi against one another is through the Ballon d'Or. Unfortunately for the former Real Madrid and Manchester United attacker, his five trophies can't compete with Messi's impressive eight.

Team trophies


Lionel Messi

Cristiano Ronaldo

Champions League



Domestic league titles



Domestic cups



Super Cups



FIFA Club World Cup



Major international cups






*Excludes Olympic titles

What do the professionals say?

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi
Ronaldo and Messi are widely considered the greatest players of all time by their peers / Nicolò Campo/GettyImages

There are very few names thrown into the mix for the greatest player of all time. The likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff will receive their share of mentions, but most former players and managers believe Messi and Ronaldo are the best football has ever witnessed.

All of the aforementioned trio of greats have weighed in on the Messi vs Ronaldo debate, with Pele the only one naming Ronaldo as his favourite. Speaking in 2020, the Brazil icon stated: "Today the best player in the world is Cristiano Ronaldo. I think he's the best, because he's more consistent, but you can't forget about Messi, of course, but he's not a striker."

However, both Maradona and Cruyff opted for Messi, perhaps unsurprisingly given their Barca connections. In 2017, Maradona proclaimed: "I can't remember having seen Lionel Messi play badly. I prefer Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo, but I acknowledge that the latter is an animal."

Similarly, Cruyff stated: "Messi is much more a team player than Cristiano is. He scores but also produces many assists. For me as a player, Messi is better."

Looking at some of the greatest players in the world at present, things are more split when it comes to Messi and Ronaldo.

Arguably the best on the planet right now, Kylian Mbappe is just about team Ronaldo, previously saying: "From one year to the next, my choice changes between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, even if I have to admit to picking Ronaldo more often."

Manchester City colossus Erling Haaland opted for Messi, stating: "He is the best that has ever played, I think so yeah." However, his teammate Kevin De Bruyne said he'd prefer to have played with Ronaldo over Messi due to the Portuguese being a more "typical striker".

One of the greatest centre-backs of the modern era, Virgil van Dijk has faced both stars during his Liverpool days. However, he had no difficulties picking between them in 2021, stating: "I would say Lionel Messi, he's still the best football player in the world."


Lionel Messi
Messi is the GOAT / Alex Caparros/GettyImages

While there remains incredibly little to separate these two legends, the stats and awards suggest Messi is the GOAT. Many of the world's greatest ever professionals are in agreement, although Ronaldo is a close number two in the rankings.

However, they remain two very different players. Ronaldo's athleticism and work ethic clash with Messi's genius and natural talent, with the real winner of the debate coming down to each football fan's personal preference.

Neither are bad shouts for the greatest player football has ever seen, that's for certain.