Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo: F365 puts the debate to bed with season-by-season comparison

Jason Soutar
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo during a match in 2011
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo during a match in 2011

Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest battle between two individuals in football history. But who is truly the better of the two?

In order to finally end the debate, and this will end it, we have compared both players in every season since Messi broke into the Barcelona first team (2004/05) and picked a winner for each one. Whoever wins more seasons is the overall winner and thus the greatest of all time. Comprende? Here we go…


Cristiano Ronaldo was already embedded into the Manchester United squad after a move from Sporting and helped the Red Devils win the FA Cup the year before. Lionel Messi was only just breaking into the Barcelona squad, but as he was a part of it, we are counting this season. Ronaldo opens up a 1-0 lead.

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Messi was becoming a more regular feature in a Barcelona team dominated by Joga Bonito supremo Ronaldinho but was still a peripheral figure in the squad. The Blaugrana – who won La Liga and the Champions League in 05/06 – were well aware of his potential but it was not his time yet. The more experienced Ronaldo makes it 2-0.


17 goals and three assists was a great return for Messi, whose game time was still increasing. Ronaldo, though, won the Premier League and was named the division’s Player of the Season, providing 37 goal contributions across all competitions. 3-0.


Ronaldo was purring but Messi was catching up alright. The Portuguese superstar claimed his first Ballon d’Or after winning a famous Premier League and Champions League double. He took home the Premier League Golden Boot, was named Player of the Season again, finished top scorer in Europe’s premier competition and was undoubtedly the best player in the world.

Messi had 16 goals and 16 assists as he became Barcelona’s star player. 4-0.


From Barcelona’s star player to the best the world of football had to offer, Messi was handed the famous No. 10 shirt at Camp Nou and quickly made it his own, blossoming into the finest player in world football and winning his first Ballon d’Or.

While Ronaldo had an incredible season, winning the Premier League and League Cup while scoring 26 goals, his Argentine arch nemesis takes this one, winning the Treble with Barcelona and as we say, claiming his first Ballon d’Or after providing 57 goal contributions in 51 matches. Messi gets his first point and makes it 4-1.


Ronaldo understandably raced into an early lead and despite playing out of his skin, he was now the second-best player in the world, which we all know will have been extremely difficult to take. In his first season at Real Madrid after becoming the most expensive footballer of all time, the Portuguese forward scored 33 goals in 35 matches.

Not bad, right? Well, Messi won the league and Ballon d’Or again, scoring a silly 47 goals in 53 matches, while providing 12 assists. 4-2.

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We were witnessing greatness with Ronaldo and Messi facing off in La Liga for arguably the two largest clubs in world football. Did we take this era for granted? We probably did, yes.

Possibly the greatest two players in the history of the sport were at the peak of their powers, but only one could be the best, and that man was Messi. He took home the La Liga, Champions League and Ballon d’Or for the third year in a row. At least he left the Copa del Rey to poor Ronaldo.

Both players scored 53 times, with Messi playing one game more. The Argentine magician provided 27 assists, nine more than his rival. 4-3.


At this stage, we were all fully aware that Messi was a better playmaker than Ronaldo, whose USP was his ridiculous goalscoring, which the Barcelona superstar still bettered. That ego of his would have been taking an absolute battering. You were still bloody brilliant, Cristiano.

Messi was better at almost everything but there were always those funny little arguments some people thought were relevant. ‘Ronaldo could play left-back! Messi could never!’ was an amusing one. Another was the fact Ronaldo had done it in England, while Messi was too scared to face a ‘cold and windy Tuesday night in Stoke’. Ronaldo also got to where he was through pure hard work and determination, while Messi was a natural talent aided by some vital growth injections as a youngster.

Excuse what you might view as waffling. We have a competition on the go, don’t we? Well, Ronaldo scored 60 goals in 55 games while making 15 assists. Silly, silly numbers from Cristiano. As you are probably aware, Messi blew those numbers out of the water, scoring 73(!) times and assisting another 32 goals in 60 matches. Over 100 goal contributions in a single season. Ha. Extraordinary. He draws level at 4-4.

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In 2012, Messi thought it would be funny to score 91 goals, bypassing Gerd Muller’s long-standing record of 85 goals in a calendar year (1972). Did voter fatigue set in, or was Ronaldo genuinely better? He won the Ballon d’Or, ending Messi’s run of five consecutive years holding the coveted individual trophy.

Messi had more goals and assists in fewer appearances but stats are not everything and that is not something we are basing this entire battle upon. Bayern Munich gave Barcelona a proper doing in the Champions League and Borussia Dortmund knocked out Real Madrid. It was not the best year for Spanish football and Ronaldo should probably edge this one as he won the Ballon d’Or but Messi was better. Debate this one with who you want. 5-4 to the little man.


Messi was once again playing ridiculously well for Barcelona, scoring 41 in 46, but this was definitely Ronaldo’s year. He broke the record for the most goals in a Champions League campaign (17) as Madrid won that and the Copa del Rey. 51 goals and 17 assists – both superior to Messi’s numbers – in 47 games helped him retain the Ballon d’Or, but more importantly, even things up here. Five each.

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61 goals, Cristiano? That’s insane. Not insane enough to win anything, mind. Barcelona bloody dominated with Messi at the heart of everything. They won the Treble for the second time and the Argentine reclaimed the Ballon d’Or. 6-5 to the wee man.


What had eluded both of these aliens was success at international level. It came for Ronaldo at Euro 2016, with Portugal lifting the trophy despite winning only one match in 90 minutes – the semi-final against Wales.

His 51 goals for Madrid helped him win the Champions League again and claiming those two trophies while being the best player for both teams was always going to result in the Ballon d’Or returning to his paws. 6-6.


Messi put up better numbers than Ronaldo this year but was outdone by the fact the latter inspired Real Madrid to a La Liga and Champions League double. Back-to-back European Cups resulted in back-to-back Ballon d’Or wins. Ronaldo retakes the lead here.


Ronaldo’s transition from a skilful winger to a goal-poaching machine was almost complete. Age gets to us all eventually and while he was still in pristine physical condition with a six-pack capable of grating cheese, he did have to adapt and adapt he bloody well did.

Saying that, neither he nor Messi won the Ballon d’Or for the first time since 2007, which probably came down to voter fatigue. Luka Modric claimed the prize having helped Croatia defy the odds to reach the World Cup final after inspiring a third Champions League in a row for Real Madrid.

We are fairly confident Messi was still the best player in the world in 2018 and despite Ronaldo claiming the Champions League, we are giving this one to the Barcelona legend. 7-7.


Ronaldo won another piece of silverware at international level, claiming the inaugural UEFA Nations League trophy with Portugal in the summer of 2018, the summer he left Madrid for Juventus to play in the fourth different country of his career. Meanwhile, Messi saw no reason to leave his boyhood club.

Both players won their respective domestic league titles but on an individual level, Messi was pretty far ahead of Ronaldo, scoring 51 goals and providing 22 assists in 50 matches. 8-7.


Messi went trophyless and Ronaldo claimed another Serie A title with Juventus. Both were still putting up outstanding numbers but once again we are giving the former the edge. The score is now 9-7.

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This season is a no-brainer. Messi finally won something with Argentina after flirting with the idea of following through with his retirement malarkey. He outscored and out-assisted Ronaldo at club level, with both Barca and Juve claiming domestic cups but not the league title. Ballon d’Or winner Messi makes it a convincing 10-7 lead.


Well, well, well. How the tables turn. Messi was no longer at Barca as they did not have enough money to keep him at the club. It was a travesty. Messi was supposed to retire in Catalonia, or at least go back to Argentina to retire when he was in his late 30s.

The Argentine completed a move to Paris Saint-Germain, where he spent two years before semi-retiring to the United States. There were certainly some teething problems in the French capital, while Ronaldo returned to Manchester United, which was supposed to be a fairytale. It turned out to be a disaster for everyone involved.

He did at least enjoy a solid 21/22 campaign before it all went Pete Tong under Erik ten Hag. The five-time Champions League winner scored 18 goals in 30 Premier League appearances and carried the Red Devils through their Champions League group. He still looked super-human but the narrative was that he made United a worse team. Let us know if you agree in the comments below.

This is a pretty tough one to call. Can we call it a draw? Of course, we can. We make the rules after all. A point each makes it 11-8.

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This one is definitely not going to be a draw. Messi went one better with Argentina and won the World Cup, while obviously winning Ligue 1 with PSG. Ronaldo, meanwhile, went and told on Man United to Piers Morgan and forced a move out of the club where he had become immortal. CR7 probably expected a move to another big European club but nobody was interested. Off to Saudi Arabia he went. Lots have since followed.

Messi did not just complete the set by making Argentina world champions again but he claimed another Ballon d’Or having put up some silly numbers at club level, scoring 32 and assisting 25 in 55 appearances.

His status as the GOAT was cemented.


Both players are just chilling now, really. We won’t score this one as MLS has only just started up again, while Ronaldo is nearly 40 games deep with Al Nassr. His scoring record in Saudi Arabia is ridiculous, but it really ought to be. Messi carried Inter Miami to the Leagues Cup shortly after arriving in Florida. When we say carried, boy do we mean carried. He joined a pretty awful team.


Final score: Lionel Messi 12-8 Cristiano Ronaldo
So, that is that. Lionel Messi is greater than Cristiano Ronaldo. There is no shame in being the second-best player of all time, Ronnie boy.

Messi wins by four despite giving his arch-rival a head start. That’s it. The debate has been put to bed. We can all die happy now.

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