Lionel Messi's stats if he played as many games as Cristiano Ronaldo could settle the debate

  • Kobe Tong
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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are arguably the two greatest footballers in history.

Although Pele, Diego Maradona, Ferenc Puskas and many others are rightfully in the conversation, it's hard to look past the staggering numbers and records that Messi and Ronaldo are amassing.

And what makes their rivalry so incredible is that their statistics are almost evenly matched, which makes it even harder for football fans around the world to settle the age-old debate.

Ronaldo and Messi's age difference

However, one data set in which Ronaldo and Messi aren't particularly neck and neck is age with the Portuguese standing at 36 years old whereas the Argentina is two years his junior at age 34.

Although that might not sound like an especially dramatic difference, it is nonetheless a critical detail whenever Ronaldo and Messi's statistics are compared because of the context that it provides.

At the end of the day, while Ronaldo might have scored more goals at both club and international level, we must always caveat that distinction by way of the Manchester United star being older.

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Messi playing catch up

In other words, there is no guarantee that ever record that Ronaldo breaks won't be surpassed by Messi once he's caught up the two-year discrepancy.

Now, yes, there are more moving parts that are involved than that - namely Ronaldo's potential to play for so much longer than Messi that the Argentine can't catch up - but the broad point remains.

And it made us very intrigued to burrow into the hypothetical rabbit hole of how Messi and Ronaldo's data might compare if they had in fact played the same amount of games.

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Messi and Ronaldo with equal games

You know, do away with the problem of Ronaldo's superior age and imagine the type of fair contrast between the two superstars that we probably won't ever get until both of them have retired.

To do so, we're calling upon the data over at michelacosta.com, the self-proclaimed largest statistical study of Ronaldo vs Messi on the internet, as well as one's own trusty calculator.

Then, using Messi's averages for goals and assists per game, we can project how many goal contributions that he might have amassed if he played the same number of matches as Ronaldo.

Ronaldo vs Messi: Current stats

But first, for context, here are how the iconic pair shape up in the real world at the time of writing:

Cristiano Ronaldo

Games played: 1,089

Goals scored: 798 (0.73 per game)

Assists provided: 228 (0.21 per game)

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Lionel Messi

Games played: 942

Goals scored: 755 (0.80 per game)

Assists provided: 315 (0.34 per game)

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Ronaldo vs Messi: Projected stats with equal games

Then, here is the imaginary scenario in which Messi can match Ronaldo's number of appearances:

Cristiano Ronaldo

Games played: 1,089

Goals scored: 798

Assists provided: 228

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Lionel Messi 

Games played: 1,089

Goals scored: 872

Assists provided: 364

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To summarise, Messi - at his current rate - would have 74 more goals and 136 more assists, making for a total of 210 additional goal contributions, than Ronaldo across the same amount of games.

Yes, it's not a perfect system...

So, there you have it, Messi churns out goals and assists at a considerably quicker rate than Ronaldo, so would be well on course to surpass his eternal rival if he can keep up this trajectory.

And that, of course, is the biggest caveat of all that needs to be taken with this statistical projection because there's no guarantee that Messi will be able to maintain this rate deeper into his thirties.

Injuries, suspensions, transfers and so many more variables might well mean that Messi's rate of goal-scoring and assist-providing plateaus in just the same way that it could for Ronaldo.

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That, and the fact that Messi won't truly know how much catching up he may or may not have to do until Ronaldo has retired and knowing him, that could still be the best part of half a decade away.

However, for all the many pinches of salt that you should apply to the data, be sure not to dismiss its significance because - by the same token - even the original, contemporary stats speaks volumes.

Besides, regardless of their age difference, there's an argument to be that Ronaldo and Messi's current goal and assist rates are illustrative of the latter's superiority in the GOAT conversation.

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ENTER GIVEAWAY

Can Ronaldo possibly be considered as the greatest goalscorer of all time if Messi scores more often than him? We'll let you decide, but it's clear to see who has the advantage in the debate...

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