Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been at the top of European football for the best part of three years now, and yet the debate over which is the superior player rages on.
The Barcelona superstar recently pipped his rival at Real Madrid for the award given to the player voted the best in La Liga last season.
Messi and Ronaldo, it seems, are constantly battling out for some award or another, and the most prestigious one will surely be between the two when it is announced early next year – the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or.
Messi has taken the award, or its equivalent, for the past three years and would become the first player to win it a fourth time in a row, but Ronaldo led Real Madrid to the La Liga title ahead of Barcelona and finally looked as though they had cracked the Catalans’ dominance.
Is it not about time the argument was settled? Enough of the world’s most revered footballing figures have had their say on the matter so it should not be hard to tally up a few of the voices and see where the balance lies.
It is probably the most commonly asked question in football press conferences around the world and it seems as though most people are happy to share their opinions.
One man who can claim to have been Messi’s equal, at least until the Ballon d’Or vote, is Brazil legend Ronaldo.
The now retired striker played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona and is still the record holder for goals scored at a World Cup – a genuine football legend.
“I am more a fan of Real Madrid, But there is no doubt that Messi is the best player in the world,” said the 36-year-old.
However, this view was not shared by Greece coach Fernando Santos, who was quite sure that his compatriot Ronaldo was the man who deserved the accolade.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is Cristiano Ronaldo," he pointed out, usefully.
“Now they think he is the best player in the world? Of course he is.”
There would be nothing surprising about his coach at Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho, thinking he was the best in the world – but he doesn’t.
No, the enigmatic former Chelsea boss reacted sensationally when it was put to him that Barça boss Tito Vialnova claimed the Argentine to be the world’s leading footballer.
Mourinho accepted this, but added that it only meant Ronaldo would take up an even more prestigious mantle.
“When someone with the same responsibility as me comes out and says: 'Mine is the best on the planet' then I have to say: 'Mine was not born in Madeira, he was born on Mars; he is not from planet Earth, he is the best in the universe',” he said.
Even in the world of athletics has even waded in on the debate and the fastest man that has ever lived, Usain Bolt, was more than sure who should be given the title.
“No doubt Cristiano is better than Messi. He is a more complete player,” said the double, triple Olympic gold medallist.
However, it gets difficult for poor Cristiano, as when the subject of the best in the world, the little magician that plies his trade in Camp Nou ususally comes out on top.
Diego Maradona is often cited as the world’s greatest ever player (another lengthy debate, for another time), but he was scathing about the Portuguese captain when asked to weigh up between the two.
"Cristiano Ronaldo will never be of Messi's level. Lionel doesn't need Cristiano Ronaldo's powerful shot. Messi just dribbles towards the goal with the ball at his feet," the eccentric former Argentina coach said.
“When Cristiano Ronaldo won the Ballon d'Or he told Messi 'No more second places'. Now silver is the best he can achieve.”
Another young man who has just started to be mentioned as a possible candidate in this argument is Brazilian sensation Neymar, but the Santos man was also sure about who took the title.
“Me? No, the Ballon d'Or is for Messi, who is the best in the world, there is no one like him,” he admitted.
“He will win it, he is the greatest. He comes up with new things after every match. Yes, yes, another Ballon d'Or for Messi. That is what there is. We all know it.”
So, the 20-year-old expects everyone to agree that Messi is the man. It is hard to disagree – he even has his own celebrity backers from other sports!
“Messi is the best player in the world. And, if he is not already, he will be the best player of all time,” said NBA superstar LeBron James.
“Messi is the best ... the best! Once I had the opportunity to see a Barcelona training session and I really enjoyed it,” concurred his fellow hoop-shooter Kobe Bryant.
However, there are some who just won’t take part and are determined to ruin things by being contrary.
Step forward another Brazil legend and legend of world football, Pele. Yes the most famous footballer from history was not having it when asked ‘The Question’.
However, he may changed his mind no, as he seemed a little cantankerous at the time of saying it and he was defending his own legacy too.
“There's always this Maradona comparison, saying that he's better than Pele,” he grumbled.
“Now some are saying that Messi is better than Pele. Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which he isn't yet. He has more experience.”
Well, it certainly is a difficult one to call, but it is hard to deny that the overwhelming view is that Messi is superior to Cristiano Ronaldo.
He has won the title the past three years and is heavy favourite to move into unchartered waters with a fourth. Debate over; the little man has it.
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