Pele rates himself the best soccer player there has ever been. He also rates Cristiano Ronaldo better than Lionel Messi. Pele’s rationale is that Messi doesn’t score goals. Photo: IANS)
Pele rates himself the best soccer player there has ever been. He also rates Cristiano Ronaldo better than Lionel Messi. Pele’s rationale is that Messi doesn’t score goals. Photo: IANS)

OPINION: Why Messi is simply the best

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Apr 25, 2020

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PELE rates himself the best soccer player there has ever been. He also rates Cristiano Ronaldo better than Lionel Messi. Pele’s rationale is that Messi doesn’t score goals.

Pele has been struggling with health issues in the last year but I didn’t know it was dementia. How else would he make such a comment?

Messi and Ronaldo have shared 11 of the last 12 Ballon d’Or awards, with Messi (six) one Golden Ball ahead of his rival.

For the record, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney earlier in the week made their contributions to which of Messi or Ronaldo is the first name onto a team sheet as soccer’s greatest.

“Ronaldo doesn’t reach the level of Messi,” Beckham told the Argentinean News Agency Telam. “They can have similarities in their technical skills and talent and it is hallucinating for football to have them both present but Messi is simply the best player in the world.”

Beckham’s former Manchester United and England teammate, Rooney, was as emphatic in his appraisal of both players.

Rooney, in his London Sunday Times column, wrote: “Ronaldo wasn’t as focused on goals when we started playing together but you could see that all he wanted was to be the best player in the world. He practiced and practiced and began to produce.

“Cristiano has become an incredible scorer and he and Messi are the best two players the game has seen. But, despite my friendship with Cristiano, I’d go for Messi. It is the different things in Messi’s game. I’ve talked about composure and I can’t remember seeing Messi score when he has hit the ball as hard as he could. He just rolls them in and makes it so easy.

“Ronaldo is ruthless in the box, a killer. But Messi will torture you before he kills you. With Messi you just get the impression he is having more fun. The two have completely changed the game in terms of goalscoring numbers and I don’t think they will ever be matched.”

Beckham said there was Messi, then Ronaldo and then the rest.

“Messi is alone in his class as a player. It is impossible that there is another like him,” said Beckham.

Manchester City and former Barcelona boss, Pep Guardiola, agreed with another Barcelona manager Luis Enrique’s belief that it was ‘ridiculous’ to compare anyone to Messi.

Guardiola, who coached Messi at Barcelona from 2008 to 2012, told Sports Illustrated: “I agree with Luis. Messi is the best. He is definitely the best. He knows how to play, score and make the other players play. He is always there. With all the respect to all the players, first to Cristiano Ronaldo, I think Messi is on another level.”

Pele, regarded by many as the ultimate player, agreed with the millions who believe him to be the best.

“Ronaldo is the best player in the world ahead of Messi, but I am the greatest of all time,” Pele told YouTube channel Philhado.

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil and despite many debates about his rival Diego Maradona’s claim to being the best, Pele didn’t mention Maradona in his all-time selections.

“We must not forget about Zico and Ronaldinho. People always talk about (Franz) Beckenbauer and (Johan) Cruyff. It is not my fault but I think I was better than all of them. There will only be one Pele. There won’t be anyone else like me.”

Pele is 79-years-old and five years ago rated Messi better than Ronaldo.

Now he feels Messi doesn’t score enough goals.

So how many goals has Messi scored, if goalscoring is the only criterion?

Michel Acosta, of michelacosta.com, has done the most complete statistical analysis of both players, both from a goalscoring and goal assist perspective.

And all the data points towards Messi, to quote Beckham, Enrique and Guardiola, being in a class of his own.

“People will always make a subjective analysis, based on personal preference, so I have made this comparison, as a statistic, rigorous and totally objective analysis, in which I will confront their individual and collective achievements,” wrote Acosta, who also made an additional comparison of the two while Ronaldo played for Real Madrid between 2009 and 2018.

Globally, be it for country or club, Messi’s scoring average is 0.08 points (0.81) higher than Ronaldo’s (0.73).

Ronaldo has played 144 more games than Messi and scored only 28 goals more. Messi, despite playing 144 less matches, has 70 more career assists and has generated 989 goals in 856 matches. Ronaldo has generated 947 goals in 1000 matches.

Messi’s goal contribution, as scorer or final assist, is 1.16 a game. Ronaldo’s is 0.95 and in summary Messi has generated 42 more goals, despite playing 144 less matches.

Acosta calculated a statistical projection, taking into account the scoring average in Messi’s career, and his finding is that Messi, when he plays his 1000th game would have scored 814 goals, which is 89 more than Ronaldo had when he played his 1000th match.

Using the same method, Messi would have given 341 assists to Ronaldo’s 119 in his 1000 matches.

Costa backdated his calculations to when Ronaldo had played the exact same number of matches as Messi now has, and found his projections to be out by a mere 3 percent.

According to this data, with an average of 0.73 goals and 0.22 assists per game, Ronaldo should have scored 625 goals and made 188 assists in his game number #856.

The reality is that after playing #856 Ronaldo had scored 602 goals and given 197 assists.

Acosta, whose statistical analysis on both players is the most detailed I have researched, also compared the two in the 35 direct match face-offs.

Of the 35 match-ups, 33 were when Messi played for Barcelona against Ronaldo (30 Real Madrid and three for Manchester United), with the other two being Argentina versus Portugal. In the two internationals, Messi scored one goal and made one goal assist and Ronaldo scored one goal.

In the 33 club matches, Messi scored 21 goals and made 11 assists. Ronaldo scored 18 goals and made one goal assist.

In their 35 on-field match ups, Ronaldo scored a goal every 153 minutes and 19 seconds and gave an assist every 2 913 minutes and participated in a goal every 145 minutes and 39 seconds. Messi scored a goal every 138 minutes and 41 seconds, gave an assist every 254 minutes and 15 seconds and participated in a goal every 89 minutes and 44 seconds.

Even more revealing is the duo’s all-time club and country career contributions to goals: Ronaldo scored a goal every 111 minutes and 50 seconds, gave a goal assist every 365 minutes and 14 seconds and participated in a goal every 85 minutes and 37 seconds.

Messi well he scored every 99 minutes and 43 seconds and gave an assist every 238 minutes and two seconds and participated in a goal every 70 minutes and 17 seconds.

Statistics, Pele, for one, clearly has never studied.

@mark_keohane 

Independent on Saturday

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