Messi and Ronaldo are no longer world’s best players, says Gary Neville

Messi and Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are without a doubt two of the greatest footballers to have ever graced the sport.

The Argentine wizard and the Portuguese superstar have broken countless records during their glittering careers, with both scoring a combined total of 1,368 competitive goals.

During that time, they have sparked one of the biggest debates in football history, with fans far and wide coming together to argue who the best player in the world is.

And whether your allegiances are with team Messi or team Ronaldo, it’s safe to say we are fortunate to have been able to watch both footballers dominate in the modern era.

As Rio Ferdinand once aptly told BT Sport: “People try and make comparisons about who’s better, but just enjoy them, man.”

While both are nearing the twilight of their careers, Ferdinand is perhaps right; football fans may want to focus more on savouring the brilliance of both Ballon d’Or winners for as long as they can.

And that has been made even clearer by Gary Neville, who has claimed that while the pair continue to play at the top level, they are no longer the best players in the world.

He told Sky Sports: “We may see cameos or a little swansong here and there, but there is no doubt that Ronaldo and Messi are coming to the end of their careers.

“At this moment in time, for the first time in years, if you asked people which player in the world they would sign if they could only pick one, no one would say Messi or Ronaldo, they would likely say Mbappe, Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah, Robert Lewandowski.

“You would be naming players other than Ronaldo and Messi, and that is the clearest sign that, while these two are still operating at the highest level, they are fading from the levels they were at before.

“They are no longer the best players in the world.”

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Changing of the guard

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and the wheels are now in motion for several younger players to take on the mantle which Ronaldo and Messi once held.

For Neville, there are several players who are clear favourites to become the greatest in the world, one of which is Mbappe.

He said: “In terms of excitement, in terms of thrill, in terms of speed, Mbappe is absolutely sensational. He reminds me of Thierry Henry, but he’s also got a bit of Cristiano Ronaldo in him – he is ruthless.

Kylian Mbappe of PSG

“The Champions League, and another World Cup, would be the crowning glory for Mbappe to succeed Ronaldo and Messi.

“I’m not saying he needs to win those trophies to become the best player in the world, but it cements your position if you play for the teams that win either of those trophies. For Mbappe, he knows silverware and honours go with that greatness.”

Mbappe isn’t the world’s greatest, just yet

But the Sky pundit also argued that the Frenchman is still nearly a decade off the conversation we have been having with Ronaldo and Messi.

The 37-year-old and the 34-year-old have sustained a consistent level of performance throughout their careers that trumps many other players who have graced the beautiful game.

“What we mustn’t underestimate with Ronaldo and Messi is their resilience,” the former United defender continued. “Their toughness, mentally and physically, to withstand all the kickings they will have taken and the criticism they will have had; the pressure and scrutiny that is on them.

“Mbappe has got 10 years before he can even think that he is Ronaldo or Messi. Even if Mbappe gets to their level for one season, he will never surpass Ronaldo or Messi for at least 12 years because he’s got to do it over that length of time to be in the same conversation as them.”

And Neville was sceptical of whether rising stars like Mbappe or Haaland can pick up the baton left behind by Ronaldo and Messi.

“I don’t think Haaland and Mbappe can get anywhere near the levels of Ronaldo and Messi,” he said.

“They are two young players who are massively talented. They can become the best in the world and achieve great things, but we shouldn’t think every new, young superstar will automatically take over from Ronaldo and Messi, who are the kind of players you’d be lucky to see once every 80 years.

BRENTFORD, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 10: Sky Sports Broadcaster Gary Neville speaks ahead of the Premier League match between Brentford and Watford at Brentford Community Stadium on December 10, 2021 in Brentford, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

“Players like these aren’t produced every decade. In my time, we had Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, the Brazilian Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, world-class players who were absolutely sensational.

“But even as great as they were, they were not Messi and Ronaldo, who are on another planet.”

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