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2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal)
You knew who the top two were going to be before you even started reading this piece, because they’ve been the top two players in the world for nearly a decade. Since 2008, no one other than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or. Messi has won five times, Ronaldo has won four. They’ve each finished second every time the other has won.
So what separates the two of them? It was incredibly difficult, but eventually I had to put Ronaldo at No. 2 because I couldn’t justify moving Messi off the No. 1 line.
Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or in 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2016 and has been named to the FIFPro World XI in 10 consecutive seasons. He has led Real Madrid to two La Liga titles (2012, 2017), two Copa del Rey wins (2011, 2014) and three Champions League Trophies (2014, 2016, 2017). He also captained Portugal’s run to the title at Euro 2016, though he departed the final against France just 25 minutes in after suffering an injury.
Ronaldo’s numbers are incredible. In 394 total matches over eight seasons at Real, he’s scored 406 goals. In 265 La Liga appearances, he has scored 285 goals. The 32-year-old proved he was still at the top of his game during the 2016-17 campaign, when he found the back of the net 42 times in 46 matches. Even after 15 professional seasons he’s still as dangerous as ever with the ball. Ronaldo has scored 622 goals for club and country, which currently ranks sixth all-time.
Ask me next week and maybe I’d have put Ronaldo No. 1, but as for now, the next guy on the list gets the title.
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1. Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona, Argentina)
Lionel Messi is firmly in the conversation as the greatest footballer of all-time and at 30, he’s got plenty of time left to possibly end the debate.
Let’s just get the numbers out of the way: he’s the all-time La Liga leader in goals scored (349), assists (137), goals scored in a La Liga season (50), goals in a club football season in Europe (73) and in a calendar year (91). He has won 29 trophies during his 13 seasons at Barcelona, including eight La Liga championships and four Champions League crowns. He’s won the Ballon d’Or a record five times, and has a record-tying four European Golden Shoes.
The only thing Messi has yet to conquer is the World Cup, though he was close, as Argentina finished second in 2014 thanks to a 1-0 loss to Germany. Still, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player for his efforts.
At barely 5’7″ Messi uses his slight stature to his advantage. His ridiculously low center of gravity helps him control the ball and work on his feet more quickly. He moves in short spurts and darts around the field rather than making long, lumbering runs. He’s an incredible finisher, but he’s just as adept at setting up teammates. He’s as versatile an attacking player as we’ve ever seen and can play a number of roles thanks to his pace and creativity. During his career he’s played as a classic winger, a center forward, a true center midfielder and an attacking mid. He can do it all.
Messi lands here because he’s still the most complete attacking player in the world. While Ronaldo is a prolific goalscorer, Messi’s game covers more ground. He stays at the top spot for another year.
Honorable mention: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund, Gabon), Eden Hazard (Chelsea, Belgium), Paul Pogba (Manchester United, France), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid, Wales), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid, Germany), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus, Italy), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, Spain), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium).