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Why Messi vs Ronaldo has become football’s most tragic, toxic debate

Comparisons between the two are inevitable but overall we should be grateful for their phenomenal double act

It’s the overarching debate that seems to govern world football; Messi or Ronaldo?

Both have redefined the standards upon which all other players are measured.

Witnessing parameters of what is capable in the sport stretch and widen to surreal proportions has been the ultimate pleasure for fans.

But it’s also been quite sad in a way.


Mutual respect

All those great players from the past with their near mythological statuses such as Pele, Maradona and Johan Cruyff seem to have had their legacies compromised.

It’s not that we now think of them as average, they’re certified legends of the game, but Ronaldo and Messi have carved out a bracket of their own in which they sit above all else.

Millennials call it ‘God tier’ and at this stage that seems as fitting name as any.

A hero to millions

A hero to millions

The pair are rightly adored by millions across the globe.

Ronaldo is currently the most popular human on Facebook with over 122 million people liking his page. Messi only has the 89 million followers.

In Ronaldo’s case, he is more popular than his club, Real Madrid, who are the most-liked sports team in the world.

We’re talking about unprecedented levels of fandom.

The cult of Ronaldo

The cult of Ronaldo

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The rivalry of these two supremely talented footballers transcends that of Real Madrid v Barcelona.

And that’s where the problem lies.

There are genuinely people out there that openly criticise Ronaldo and Messi’s footballing ability.

In the age of social media this probably isn’t new information but it’s certainly worth analysing.

We’re not talking about Barcelona fans criticising Ronaldo or vice versa, that’s standard club loyalty which has the ability to blind even the most level-headed of fans.



There are neutral fans out there, not Madrid or Barca, not Portugual or Argentina, that align themselves to one of the two players and adopt an attitude that includes genuine contempt for the other.

Don’t get us wrong, the majority of comments out there are 140-character love letters but if you trawl through the YouTube comments of any half-popular football video chances are you’ll come across a heated Ronaldo v Messi debate that includes words we don’t feel comfortable repeating here.

Raising the bar

Raising the bar

The problem is many perceive isolated praise of one as criticism of the other.

If you express admiration for Messi’s dribbling without mentioning Ronaldo in the same conversation then you risk others believing your allegiance to the Barcelona forward is unwavering.

This phenomenon is fairly unique to this rivalry because they are undoubtedly the two best in the world.

People’s innate desire to name the best, the standalone best, blinds them to the pair’s combined wonder.

It should be Messi AND Ronaldo, not Messi OR Ronaldo.


Ronaldo is set to equal Messi on five Ballon d’Or awards

This doesn’t apply to a lot of you; many are capable of appreciating both.

The fear is that some will look back on this era as a time of rage-tweets and expletive-laden quarrels on obscure forums.

We implore those of this persuasion to do your utmost to see Ronaldo and Messi for what they are; entertainers with superhuman talent that have mastered the world’s favourite sport with greater ease than any other human beings in existence.

If you’re a true football fan it would be the ultimate tragedy to deny yourself full enjoyment.

Of course it’s okay to have a favourite, or to believe one is better than the other, but just be aware of the difference between personal preference and corrupt bias.


The pair’s ‘rivalry’ has made them both better players

Messi and Ronaldo’s careers are so entwined that to insult one means insulting the other.

Neither are flat track bullies who fluff their numbers with penalties.

Neither are frauds or overrated.

Both are susceptible to fluctuations in form (rare evidence that they are contained to mortal shells) but the difference is, when they are below par they are still phenomenal.

This season, Ronaldo has been noticeably rusty and yet he still sets records — the first player in Champions League history to score in all six group games being his latest.

In 2015/16 many thought Messi was in permanent decline; he finished the season with 41 goals in all competitions.

Enjoy it while it lasts

AFP or licensors
Enjoy it while it lasts

Both have now celebrated their 30th birthdays.

No disrespect to Neymar and the others likely to take up the mantle of ‘world’s best’, but it is extremely unlikely we’ll ever see two players of Messi and Ronaldo’s calibre again in our lifetime.

So savour these glorious days, before they’re gone and all you have left to show for it is a timeline full of ill-judged comments.

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