If Lionel Messi had Cristiano Ronaldo’s physique, there’d be no doubt over who was the better footballer. Messi’s skills are unparalleled, but his ability to stay healthy has never been more in question with his most recent injury. On the other hand, Ronaldo is a close second (skill-wise) and rarely misses time due to injury. So how do you go about properly comparing them?
With the 2014 World Cup quickly approaching, and both Argentina and Portugal qualified, the stage is set perfectly for Ronaldo to dislodge Messi from his unofficial number-one ranking. Ronaldo’s hat-trick in the second leg against Sweden propelled his country into the World Cup and tied him with Pedro Miguel Carreiro Resendes as Portugal’s all-time leading goal scorer. Meanwhile, Messi is nursing yet another leg injury that will keep him sidelined until early 2014.
No player in history has earned more Ballon d’Or’s than Messi, who has won the last four awards given annually to the player considered to have performed better than all others in the previous year. For the last two seasons, Ronaldo has finished a distant second to Messi. However, if 2013 were to end now, Ronaldo would be the likely winner of soccer’s most prestigious award. And with over a month left to play, Ronaldo will only distance himself more from the Argentinian as he continues to lead Real Madrid.
Ronaldo last won the Ballon d’Or in 2008. He was 23; Messi was only 21 and finished in second place. Ronaldo has led Manchester United to three Premier League titles and Real Madrid to one La Liga title and one Copa del Rey in 2011. Messi has won six La Liga titles all with Barcelona and two Copa del Rey titles. Neither of the two have ever led their country to a World Cup title — though Ronaldo has led his country to a fourth-place finish in 2006.
This is where the 2014 World Cup comes into play. A win or a high-place finish and there will be a huge reputational coup. The key question here being, of course, whether Messi will be healthy enough to really compete. It’s a question no one can confidently answer at the moment. Ronaldo, on the other hand, will absolutely be ready.
Which means the World Cup might help Ronaldo move past Messi, assuming he’s able to lead Portugal deep into the tournament. Winning it might put the question to rest permanently. Hypotheticals are fun, but the 2014 World Cup represents a chance to discard them.