Messi’s World Cup Win May Have Finally Crowned Him the GOAT (2024)

When it comes to men’s soccer, every generation has its contenders for the best ever to play the game. Before, there was Pelé, then Diego Maradona. For the last two decades, it’s been Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

When Messi was included in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2011, French legend and former Barcelona teammate Thierry Henry described the Argentinian as a “god of the field.” When Ronaldo was on the same list in 2014, Pelé praised the Portuguese player’s “competitive mindset” and “elegance and creativity” on the pitch, adding that he “would have loved having a teammate like Cristiano.”

The two, who are notable not just for their talent but also for their longevity, have broken countless records and won the most prestigious accolades, both as individuals as well as with their respective teams. They have ticked off nearly every accomplishment possible in the sport—aside from one glaring exception: neither had won the World Cup.

Until now, that is.

For Ronaldo, “the dream ended,” as he said on social media, hinting at his likely international retirement, after Portugal lost to Morocco on December 10 in the quarterfinals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Messi, on the other hand, may have finally tipped the scales in the “greatest of all time” debate when he lifted the trophy that had long eluded him on Sunday after Argentina defeated France on penalties in the breathtaking final. Messi, who had said this would be his last World Cup, expertly steered his team to glory, netting seven goals in seven matches and being named player of the tournament.

Messi’s World Cup Win May Have Finally Crowned Him the GOAT (1)

While the two are not hanging up their boots just yet as professional soccer players, it’s worth looking back on the amazing heights reached by both Messi and Ronaldo. At the twilight of their era of domination, here are some metrics to compare the superstars.

Statistics: Too Close to Call

At the senior club level, Ronaldo debuted in September 2002 for the Portuguese professional team Sporting. He went on to play for English, Spanish, and Italian giants Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Juventus, respectively, before returning to Manchester United in August 2021 for a second stint, which just ended. At 37, he’s currently a free agent.

At 35, Messi is a few years younger than Ronaldo. He’s spent most of his time in Spain at Barcelona, where he made his senior competitive debut in October 2003 and left in August 2021 to join his current team Paris Saint-Germain in France.

By the numbers, both have had exceptionally impressive careers. Below, a selection of their stats (excluding youth-level soccer, club friendlies, and penalty shootouts) from

When it comes to goalscoring, Ronaldo holds the overall record (for goals that meet International Federation of Football History & Statistics criteria) as well as the records for most club goals of all time and most international goals of all time.

At the international level, Messi and Ronaldo have each played in a record-tying five World Cups. At those tournaments, Messi has scored 13 times and has had 8 assists in 26 appearances, while Ronaldo has scored 8 times with 2 assists in 22 appearances. Ronaldo is the only player ever to score in five different World Cups, and Messi is the only player ever to have at least one assist in five different World Cups. And in this latest World Cup, Messi became the first ever to score in every round of the tournament, from the group stage to the final.

Individual Achievements: Advantage Messi

The most-celebrated individual award in soccer is the Ballon d’Or, given annually since 1956 by a French magazine to the best male player of the year as voted by sports journalists. Messi holds the record for winning it the most times, while Ronaldo holds the record for being shortlisted the most times.

The two have earned many other honors—too many to list—but notable ones include the Puskas Award, given annually since 2009 to the scorer (male or female) of the “most beautiful” goal of the year. Until 2018 it was determined by fan votes online, and since then it’s been decided by FIFA-selected pundits from fan-voted nominations.

The European Golden Shoe is given each year to the scorer of the most goals in a first division club league in Europe. Golden boot awards are given at international tournaments to the top goalscorer, while golden ball awards are given to the top player. (Messi was one goal short of the Golden Boot in Qatar, but he earned the Golden Ball.)

And each year, FIFPRO, the association of unions representing more than 66,000 professional soccer players around the world, has its members vote on an 11-person team of the year. Messi and Ronaldo share the record for the most appearances.

Ballon d’Or Awards

Messi: 7 (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019, 2021)
Ronaldo: 5 (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017)

Ballon d’Or Silver or Bronze Balls (Second/Third Place)

Messi: 6 (2007, 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017)
Ronaldo: 7 (2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2018, 2019)

Ballon d’Or Shortlists

Messi: 15 (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021)
Ronaldo: 18 (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022)

FIFA Puskas Awards

Messi: 0
Ronaldo: 1 (2009)

FIFA Puskas Nominations

Messi: 7 (2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019)
Ronaldo: 2 (2009, 2018)

European Golden Shoes

Messi: 6 (2009-2010 with 34 goals, 2011-2012 with 50 goals, 2012-2013 with 46 goals, 2016-2017 with 37 goals, 2017-2018 with 34 goals, 2018-2019 with 36 goals)
Ronaldo: 4 (2007-2008 with 31 goals, 2010-2011 with 40 goals, 2013-2014 with 31 goals, 2014-2015 with 48 goals)

Domestic League Player of the Season Awards

Messi: 9 (La Liga: 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2014-2015, 2016-2017, 2017-2018, 2018-2019)
Ronaldo: 5 (Premier League: 2006-2007, 2007-2008; La Liga: 2013-2014; Serie A: 2018-2019, 2019-2020)

International Golden Boots

Messi: 1 (2021 Copa América)
Ronaldo: 2 (2019 UEFA Nations League, 2020 European Championship)

International Golden Balls

Messi: 4 (2014 World Cup, 2015 Copa América, 2021 Copa América, 2022 World Cup)
Ronaldo: 0

FIFPRO World XI Appearances

Messi: 15 (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021)
Ronaldo: 15 (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021)

Messi’s World Cup Win May Have Finally Crowned Him the GOAT (2)

Team Trophies: Advantage Messi

With their clubs, Messi and Ronaldo have each lifted numerous trophies, the most renowned being the Champions League, an annual tournament of the best teams in European professional soccer. Ronaldo, who holds the record for most Champions League goals of all time (141), leads Messi by one on that trophy count. Messi, meanwhile, has a greater number of domestic cups and league titles.

The biggest factor setting the two apart is now their international success: they’d both sought a World Cup for so long, each winning regional tournaments with their countries but repeatedly falling short of the top prize. In the eyes of many soccer watchers, Messi’s victorious last dance on the global stage will surely cement his superiority in the history books.

UEFA Champions League Titles

Messi: 4 (2006, 2009, 2011, 2015 with Barcelona)
Ronaldo: 5 (2008 with Manchester United; 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 with Real Madrid)

UEFA Super Cups

Messi: 3 (2009, 2011, 2015 with Barcelona)
Ronaldo: 4 (2008 with Manchester United; 2014, 2016, 2017 with Real Madrid)

FIFA Club World Cups

Messi: 3 (2009, 2011, 2015 with Barcelona)
Ronaldo: 4 (2008 with Manchester United; 2014, 2016, 2017 with Real Madrid)

Domestic League Titles

Messi: 11 (La Liga in 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2010-2011, 2012-2013, 2014-2015, 2015-2016, 2017-2018, 2018-2019; Ligue 1 in 2021-2022)
Ronaldo: 7 (Premier League in 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009; La Liga in 2011-2012, 2016-2017; Serie A in 2018-2019, 2019-2020)

Domestic Cups

Messi: 16 (Supercopa de España in 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018; Copa del Rey in 2009, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021; Trophée des Champions in 2022)
Ronaldo: 13 (Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira in 2002; FA Cup in 2004; EFL Cup in 2006, 2009; FA Community Shield in 2007, 2008; Copa del Rey in 2011, 2014; Supercopa de España in 2012, 2017; Supercoppa Italiana in 2019, 2021; Coppa Italia in 2021)

Senior International Tournaments Besides the World Cup

Messi: 2 (2021 Copa América, 2022 CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions)
Ronaldo: 2 (2016 European Championship, 2019 UEFA Nations League)

FIFA World Cups

Messi: 1 (2022)
Ronaldo: 0

Messi’s World Cup Win May Have Finally Crowned Him the GOAT (3)

Icons on the field and off it (they’re the two most-followed Instagram accounts in the world), Messi and Ronaldo are both arguably better than any men’s soccer player to have come before them.

But as they each prepare to leave the stage in the coming years, there’s an ascendant generation—from 23-year-old French phenom Kylian Mbappé, the world’s highest-paid soccer player who already has a World Cup trophy under his belt and scored thrice in the final on Sunday to almost win his second, to 22-year-old Erling Haaland, Manchester City’s Norwegian rising star who in the last four years has scored 159 goals in 156 games for clubs and country—vying to take their places at the perch of the world’s most popular sport.

Yet until the youngsters prove that they, too, can compete at the highest level—not just for a few seasons but consistently over decades—Ronaldo and Messi will jointly remain in a league of their own, undoubtedly among the GOAT.

Between the two, however, Messi just made his legacy that much stronger.

Messi’s World Cup Win May Have Finally Crowned Him the GOAT (2024)
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