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What is it with the GOAT debate?

A goat. Photo credit: Robin Gaillot-Drevon from

It is possible that nothing would bring Madeira, Portugal and Rosario, Argentina into context more than the rivalry generated by their favourite sons; Christiano Aveiro Dos Santos Ronaldo, and Lionel Andres Messi Cuccitini.

The two footballers have defined an era in a way that calls to question the greatness of other eras. Records after records have fallen, and new ones created, as these two march on along their unmatched careers.

Inevitably, what has come about as a consequence of their stellar performances over the years is the claim by each player’s fan base that their idol is the Greatest of All Time, a title which has been cleverly abbreviated to GOAT.

This debate which started as a mere contest over who was the better footballer has raged on from since when both stars burst into the limelight in the mid-2000s.

While every decade since the 1950s has had its undeniable stars; Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenç Puskas in the 1950s, Pele, Luis Suarez, Garincha and Eusebio Ferreira in the 1960s, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and Kenny Dalglish in the 1970s, Michelle Platini, Diego Maradona, Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten in the 1980s, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo De Lima, Luis Figo and Romario in the 1990s, Ronaldinho, Gianluigi Buffon and Thiery Henry in the 2000s, but from the mid-2000s till now, a period which has seen such greats as Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Andrea Pirlo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Luka Modric, Neymar among others, CR7 and Messi stand out, not only for being the greatest of their era but as genuine contenders for the greatest of all time.

Numbers do not lie, even though it must be noted that numbers do not tell the full story. But as much they tell, Messi has won the most prestigious award in Football, the Balon D’Or, on seven occasions: winning his first in 2009, his second in 2010, his third in 2011, fourth in 2012, fifth in 2015, sixth in 2019, and seventh in 2021. Ronaldo has on his part won the Balon D’Or on five occasions: his first was in 2008, second was in 2013, third in 2014, fourth in 2016, and fifth in 2017. For the European Golden boot, the award for the highest league goal scorer in Europe, Messi has triumphed six times to Ronaldo’s four times. As far as league titles are concerned, Messi has won eleven league titles while Ronaldo has managed seven. In the UEFA Champions League, Messi has four winners medals while Ronaldo has five.

For their national teams, Messi had the brighter start as a youngster, winning the Under-20 World Cup in 2005 with Argentina and the Olympic gold medal in Beijing three years later. Successive final defeats at the Copa America in 2007, World Cup in 2014, Copa America in 2015 and 2016 marked a bad patch in his international career, however, an eventual triumph at the 2021 Copa America final in Brazil meant that Messi could hold his own against Ronaldo who won the UEFA Euro Championship with Portugal in 2016 and the maiden edition of the UEFA Nations League in 2019.

While having scored the highest number of goals in football history, Ronaldo is perhaps the archetypical goal machine, and while Messi is not doing badly in that regard having perhaps the best goal to game ratio in football history, his forte is with creativity in the middle of the pack.

The debate often comes down to the above; while Ronaldo’s fan base insist with creedal faithfulness that numbers don’t lie. Messi’s fan base agree but with the rider that while being one of the best goal scorers ever, Messi is the greatest exponent of football as an art. In comparing their potency while some say that Ronaldo is an industrial hazard, others say that Messi is a natural disaster, one is man-made, the other is the act of the gods.

About GOATs, is it the man from Madeira, or is it the man from Rosario? Maybe only time will tell.

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