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Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo: Who’s got most goals, records and support in GOAT race?

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been compared as the greatest players in football history throughout their careers – but which one is the true GOAT?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have practically broken, rewritten and set enough records to last a lifetime in their illustrious careers, some of which may never be matched. But every player’s career comes to an end and, after spending 15 years at the top of the game, both Ronaldo and Messi are approaching the end of their cycle as the best in the game.

But few can deny that the superstar pair are among the greatest footballers to have walked the earth, along with the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Johann Cruyff.

In the modern game where standards have increased to a different level of pressure, Messi and Ronaldo have stood taller than the rest by scoring a phenomenal number of goals and stocking a trophy cabinet filled to the brim with silverware.

But which of the superstar pair deserves to be crowned as football’s true GOAT (greatest of all time)? Express Sport analyses Messi and Ronaldo’s goal statistics, titles and records in an attempt to separate the two magicians and make a judgement.

Lionel Messi: The Argentinian was unstoppable at Barcelona (Image: Getty)

Whichever way you look at it, Messi and Ronaldo’s consistent goalscoring achievements are simply phenomenal.

In his 1,152 career matches at club and international level, Ronaldo has found the net 827 times with 236 assists. That puts him clearly above Messi who has 799 goals, but the Argentinian has played a significantly lower number of games (1,013).

While Ronaldo currently has more goals overall, Messi has the edge in the scoring department, with a higher season average (37.9 to 35), having hit a high of 73 goals in 2011-12, though his average dropped after a disappointing maiden campaign at PSG in 2021-22.

Ronaldo’s highest season return was 61, which he achieved in 2014-15, and he surpassed the 50-goal mark every season for six years between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

Perhaps the best metric to measure Messi and Ronaldo is when they were battling each other in La Liga from 2009 to 2018. The friendly rivals were at their peak with Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, but Messi’s total of 329 goals in that period compared to Ronaldo’s 311 puts him just above.

Cristiano Ronaldo: The Portuguese was a goal machine at Real Madrid (Image: Getty)

No player has collected more Ballon d’Or awards than Messi’s seven, with Ronaldo two adrift on five after last winning the crown in 2018. And it would be no surprise to see the Argentinian add an eighth to his trophy cabinet after winning the FIFA Best award, having guided Argentina to their first World Cup in 36 years.

On titles and trophies alone, Messi is out in front with 11 league titles (10 with Barcelona, one with PSG) to Ronaldo’s seven (three with United, two with Real Madrid and two with Juventus). Ronaldo has four Champions League titles to his name, one more than Messi’s three.

And up until two years ago, the absence of an international trophy continued to haunt Messi until he won the Copa America and the 2022 World Cup.

But Ronaldo does have the bragging rights in two areas which may prove he has a right to stake his claim. The Portuguese is the current all-time international record goalscorer after breaking the record set by former Ali Daei, the former Iran international, in 2021 when he scored his 110th international goal for Portugal against the Republic of Ireland.

Since then, the 38-year-old has added another eight goals to his collection to make it 118 in 196 caps. Messi is two away from his century in 172 caps for Argentina but it appears unlikely that he will be able to catch Ronaldo before he brings the curtain down on his career.

However, Messi has his own page of the records books dedicated to his achievements too. In his 17 years with Barcelona, Messi scored 474 goals and registered 192 assists for the Blaugrana – the most in the competition’s history with an astonishing 36 hat-tricks as well. He has also scored eight Champions League hat-tricks, giving him the record above Ronaldo.

Lionel Messi: The Argentina star now has the World Cup in his collection (Image: Getty)

What the experts say

Even considering Gary Lineker’s past affiliation with Barcelona, it seems his admiration for Messi may be even stronger after praising the Argentinian profusely down the years.

As Messi dazzled Croatia with an exceptional performance in the World Cup semi-final, Lineker tweeted: “Is there still a debate (about who the best ever player is)? Asking for a goat”, referring to the diminutive playmaker.

The late Brazilian Pele disagreed, however, when asked about the Ronaldo and Messi debate two years ago: “Today the best player in the world is Cristiano Ronaldo. I think he’s the best, because he’s more consistent, but you can’t forget about [Lionel] Messi, of course, but he’s not a striker,’ Pele told YouTube channel Pilhado.

“[The best of all time] is a question that is difficult to answer. We cannot forget about Zico, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. And in Europe, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff. Now, it’s not my fault, but I think Pele was better than them all.”

The past few years of their respective careers would suggest Messi is narrowly ahead of Ronaldo now in terms of popularity, with Ronaldo less relevant now he is playing in Saudi Arabia.

But some may still argue that over the years, Messi being the best footballer and Ronaldo taking the crown for best goalscorer might be the fairest way to determine and celebrate their talents.