How the 1998-2007 Ballon d'Or winners have settled the Ronaldo vs Messi debate

  • Kobe Tong

Having Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the same era is quite the blessing for football fans.

Correctly regarded as two of the greatest players in the history of the game, it has been fascinating to see the two superstars contend with one another for so many years and make the debate so compelling.

Besides, separating Ronaldo and Messi is almost impossible with both players boasting similar goal and assist records as well as wielding five Ballon d’Or titles each.

As a result, the annual coronation of the best player in the world has become a duopoly between the two players with Kaka’s victory in 2007 seeming a distant memory.

Before the victory for Brazilian over a decade ago, the Ballon d’Or was a considerably more competitive award and the ten winners before Messi and Ronaldo’s dominance were all different players.

Ronaldo vs Messi debate

It goes to show just how dominant the pair have been with superstars such as Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo Nazario struggling to match their control over the accolade.

Ronaldo looks to have the upper hand in 2018, although Luke Modric could lay claim to the award, but settling the debate remains as divisive and difficult as ever.

But who better to judge than previous players who have conquered world football and stood on the same Ballon d’Or stage as them?

That being considered, the ten winners of the award before 2008 have all cast their verdict on the Ronaldo vs Messi debate over the years and compiling all their answers is very interesting.

So, without further ado, here are how the world’s best players between 1998 and 2007 have answered football’s biggest question.

1. Zinedine Zidane (1998)

Answer: Cristiano Ronaldo

Some slight bias here considering Zidane managed Ronaldo at Real Madrid but, nevertheless, he answered in 2016: “Messi the best player in the world? Cristiano Ronaldo is the best.

“Many things are said about Cristiano, but deep in his heart he is a good person. Messi is his rival and that rivalry is good for football. That’s what people want to see.”

2. Rivaldo (1999)

Answer: Lionel Messi

Rivaldo maintained his allegiances with Barcelona and in an interview last year, noted: “I would like to play with Messi, he is the best of the world, the one who makes more differences.

“Ronaldo? He is the most dangerous player at Real. It is hard to stop him, like Messi, because both score a lot of goals and you never know what is going to be the next thing they will invent for scoring.”

3. Luis Figo (2000)

Answer: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

Figo’s answer was highly anticipated given his history with Barcelona and Real Madrid but to the frustration of football fans, he sat on the fence when asked to choose.

“They are both the best in the world. It is always difficult to choose one of them and say he is the best,” he concluded. “I would never choose between them.”

4. Michael Owen (2001)

Answer: Cristiano Ronaldo, just

The former Real Madrid striker noted Ronaldo’s all-around attributes as the deciding factor in the debate, explaining: “Goalscoring is the hardest art in football and [Ronaldo] makes it look so easy. Head, left foot, right foot.

“Messi is a decent header of a ball but if you’re looking at all-round players, you go head-to-head with Messi and Ronaldo, you’d say Ronaldo has a lot more different attributes let’s say. He’s probably always been quicker, right foot, left foot and header of a ball.

“I think Messi is outstanding in certain attributes but as an all-round physique, Ronaldo is such an all-round player.”

5. Ronaldo Nazario (2002)

Answer: Lionel Messi

Yet another man to play for Real Madrid and Barcelona, Ronaldo gave his highly respected opinion by saying: “With his incredible attitude, with his incredible winning mentality, Cristiano Ronaldo is a unique player.

“But I admit that Lionel Messi brings even more magic to football. With his dribbling, his complete form of playing football and his ability to generate surprising situations in the attacks.”

6. Pavel Nedved (2003)

Answer: ???

Perhaps the most confusing answer on the list, Nedved has never explicitly picked between the two players even if his allegiances to Juventus would now suggest he backs Ronaldo in the debate.

That being said, the Ballon d’Or winner has made bizarre comments in the past saying Zlatan Ibrahimovic is just as good as them and that Gonzalo Higuain is a better striker than both. Everyone to themselves.

7. Andriy Shevchenko (2004)

Answer: Lionel Messi

Shevchenko is another player who hasn’t been too open about the debate but he opened up a little during a Ballon d’Or ceremony in 2013 by declaring: “I think all three nominees were amazing in 2012 but Lionel Messi was something special.

“To score 91 goals in a full year is unbelievable. Both him and Cristiano are great but Leo Messi is incredible.”

8. Ronaldinho (2005)

Answer: Lionel Messi

Ronaldinho played a huge role in Messi’s rise to the top and continues to back his old teammate. When asked to choose between the two this year, he answered: “Messi. I would have loved to continue playing alongside him.

“I didn’t get enough time with him, he was very young. I’d love to take to the pitch with him one more time.”

9. Fabio Cannavaro (2006)

Answer: Lionel Messi

Definitely one of the most interesting answers considering Cannavaro is one of few defenders to win the award and in 2013 he decided: “Both Messi and Ronaldo are great players in terms of scoring. At this very moment, Messi is a little bit better.”

Whether the Italian’s opinion has changed in recent years remains to be seen but – for the record – he actually considers Brazilian Ronaldo an Diego Maradona to be on the same level.

10. Kaka (2007)

Answer: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

Sadly, the last player to break the duopoly hasn’t been too keen to distinguish between Ronaldo and Messi, analysing recently: “It’s true that Messi and Cristiano are phenomenal players,” he said, as quoted by Marca.

“Messi is a genius and Ronaldo is a sort of icon of modern football… both have undoubtedly defined their generation. They’re sporting greats.”

So, for the record, that leaves the score at 5-2 to Messi.

Two players decide to sit on the fence and picked both players while Nedved did his own thing.

Ultimately, though, deciding between Ronaldo and Messi will continue to prove the most difficult of tasks and football fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

Who do you think is best – Ronaldo or Messi? Have your say in the comments section below.

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