Lionel Messi outshines Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford

Ronaldo and Messi meet at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening (©GettyImages)

If you paid for a ticket to Argentina versus Portugal last night, I feel for you. Really, you paid for Leo Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo - a battle of the world's two top players played on British soil for the first time since 2008.

You must be disappointed.

The duo lasted just 45 minutes before both were withdraw at half-time. As the BBC reported, fans left feeling shortchanged.

"Considering I had paid £50 to see them both, I thought it was shocking when they didn't come out for the second half," Akram Aanif, from Birmingham, told the BBC.

"They had obviously arranged beforehand how long they would both play for and, if I had known, I would rather have stayed at home and watched the Scotland-England friendly on TV,"  Suffyan Amjad from Burnley added.

The 75,000-capacity stadium was half-full but the fans only got half the show.

As for the performances themselves, Messi outshone Ronaldo. The Argentina star was bright, creative and involved in most good things his team produced. Ronaldo meanwhile, floated on the periphery, only occasionally contributing anything meaningful to a low-key performance.

Billed as a battle for the 2014 Ballon d'Or, it's fairly safe to say that has already been won by Ronaldo. A mid-season friendly at Old Trafford was unlikely to move the needle.

It will be Ronaldo's second in as many years, bringing him to three compared to Messi's four.

The case

You've heard the records before. Since moving to Madrid, the Portuguese star has 195 La Liga goals in 175 appearances. As Messi's Barcelona have struggled to match the heights of the Pep Guardiola era, Ronaldo has kicked on a gear and rightfully scooped the accolades.

But any broader attempt to argue that Ronaldo is now Messi's superior looking at a longer arc of history is flawed. The Argentina international retains a body of work more impressive, at a younger age, then his erstwhile rival.

At 27, Messi has the most goals in Champions League history, the most goals in Barcelona history, the most goals in El Clasico history and is just two shy of the most goals in La Liga history.

He is nine assists short of the most assists in Champions League history, 14 assists short of the most assists in Barca history, and six short of the most assists in La Liga history. He is already the record holder for assists in El Clasico matches.

Oh yes, and he needs just eight goals to become Argentina's record goalscorer. Goals and assists, scorer and provider, his record is unequaled.

He has a better goals-to-games ratio at international and club level, more league titles and more Champions League wins.

The statistical case is pretty convincing. What about other, more subjective, qualitative measures though?


Ronaldo is a force of nature, a whirlwind that batters down defences through physical domination matched with fast-twitch skill. Shock and awe treatment, a Michael Bay movie in football form.

Messi is different. He's technique and a low centre of gravity. A purer form of footballing ability. He passes into the net when Ronaldo blasts, he jinks and dukes while Ronaldo powers.

It's completely in the eye of the beholder, but at least for me, it's more enjoyable to watch a player like Messi, the opposite of the vast majority of successful professional footballers (strong, technically solid, quick), that somehow his records become even more unbelievable than they already are.

Ronaldo is at the top of his game - he's never been better. Messi is not - but still he outperformed his Portuguese rival at the summer's World Cup.

Granted, Messi had a better supporting cast, but he still dragged a dysfunctional Argentina to the World Cup final. Ronaldo could not escape a tough group.

Your view?

Last night changed nothing, Ronaldo fans will point to his record over the last 24 months, Messi fans to his achievements over the last eight years. But who's right? Escape the present, step back and consider, and Messi leaves the larger legacy.

This is just one author's viewpoint, and we want you to join the debate. Who do you think is the best player of this generation - Ronaldo or Messi?

Have your say in the comment box below...

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