Does winning the Euro make Cristiano Ronaldo more successful than Lionel Messi? Should we attempt to answer that with another question, we will have to ask whether Sachin Tendulkar is better than Brian Lara. Tendulkar has a World Cup, a career spanning 24 years and 100 international centuries but Lara scored an unbeaten 501 once and made 400 not out against England in a Test, both world records.
The short answer, therefore, is that winning on Sunday does not make Ronaldo better than Messi.
True, there are some superficial similarities that make such attempt at comparison seem a little more than mere artificial construct. Both have led their countries and are the record goal-scorers for their national teams; Messi has 55 in 113 matches and Ronaldo 61 from 133. They may have made contrasting statements about the importance of winning for their countries but care deeply about the national team shirt.
There’s more. Their style of football’s different but both shifted from being wide midfielders to more central attacking roles. They represent clubs which regularly win the domestic league and the European Champions League, rated tougher than World Cups by Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. And both have been churlish enough to ignore the other as voters in the annual poll that chooses the world’s best footballer. Because every Ballon d’Or vote matters.
Messi lead that score 5-3. But numbers don’t always tell the tale because if we go just by them in 2016, Messi has more goals (34-32) and over double the number of assists (23-11). And Messi has played four finals of major tournaments for Argentina while Ronaldo has two. In seven World Cup games in 2014, Messi was adjudged Man of the Match four times and won the Golden Ball.
A half-fit Ronaldo’s World Cup lasted three games. In the Copa Centenario, Messi scored a 19-minute hattrick and netted a wonder goal in the semi-final. Ronaldo’s Euro 2016 came alive in Portugal’s third group league game, against Hungary. He scored a superb goal in the semi-final but lasted 25 injury-riddled minutes in the final. The biggest takeaway from Sunday perhaps was how admirably resilient Portugal were after their talisman was forced to leave.
So, should all that count for nothing because Messi hasn’t won a major tournament with Argentina --- the Olympic gold and under-20 world championships don’t count --- and Ronaldo lifted the Euro? By that yardstick, would Kleberson and Vampeta be better footballers than Zico because they won a World Cup? Or Johan Cruyff a lesser star than Wolfgang Overarth?
The one thing that stood out in Euro 2016 is how Ronaldo coaxed his teammates to give of their best. He asked Joao Moutinho to take the penalty against Poland and was a self-appointed deputy to coach Fernando Santos when Portugal started believing in a miracle at Saint-Denis. In public space, Messi is less flamboyant of the two and that extends to how they approach captaincy as well. But surely that can’t decide who the better footballer is.
“Beauty comes first. Victory is secondary. What matters is joy,” Socrates, the late Brazilian midfield maestro, said in his book ‘Football Philosophy.’ For all those to whom such things matter let the supremacy debate continue. For the rest, what matters is the joy Messi and Ronaldo provide.