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Ronaldo vs Messi: Who Is The More Complete Player

There is always this discussion about Messi being both a playmaker and also a striker thereby making him the most complete player ever. But Ronaldo fans insist that if Messi is a playmaker, then Ronaldo is also a playmaker. 


It is laughable, just like saying "since Ronaldo is over 6 ft tall, Messi too is over 6 ft tall"


No rule states that what one can do, the other must be able to. After all, Messi can't jump as high as Ronaldo.

In his defense, Ronaldo fans cite his number of assists (about 200 or so) as proof that Ronaldo too is a playmaker. 

But if it's by assists, Iniesta, Xavi, and Zidane don't even have half of Ronaldo's assists.

They also say that Ronaldo used to be a midfielder and a winger in the past and that makes him a playmaker. 

But being a midfielder doesn't automatically make you a playmaker. N'golo Kante is not a playmaker.

And being a winger doesn't automatically make you a player. Nani was not a playmaker.

At Manchester United, Paul Scholes was the major playmaker who dictated play.

At Real Madrid, it was the likes of Mesut Ozil or Xabi Alonso.

Ronaldo was never really a playmaker.

So why do I say that Ronaldo is not a playmaker?

Well, let's get to what playmaking entails.

So who's a playmaker?

First things first, in association football, a playmaker is a player who "controls the flow of the team's play", and is often involved in offensive play passing moves which lead to goals, through their vision, technique, ball control, creativity, and passing ability.

So I'm gonna make a list of major football skills and I’ll highlight the ones included in “playmaking” with a [PM] at the front.

Join me.

1. [PM] Passing: both short passing without turnovers, to maintain possession and build plays like Xavi, and very accurate long or cross-field passes to find outlets like Xabi Alonso was famous for.

2. [PM] Vision: being able to see what’s happening on the entire pitch as we do on the TV even while they’re there on the pitch, awareness of where everyone else is and where they’re going. Players with great vision are rare: Xavi, David Silva, Scholes, etc.

3. [PM] Assists: finding the open scorer and generating clear opportunities. Ozil and prime Fabregas were masters. Kevin de Bruyne is amazing at doing this on the low cross.

4. [PM] Through-balls: those “threading the needle” or slide-rule passes, where you hit a hard pass through gaps in the defense to a player in a better position past the defensive lines in front of you. Ozil is also great at this, as is Xavi.

5. [PM] Playmaking (what people usually mean): often gets reduced to just assist stats, but it’s so much more— giving the ball, getting the ball, movement on the ball as in where you go when you bring the ball up the field, basically orchestrating play to generate good opportunities. This is why many great midfield playmakers often don’t have gaudy assist numbers because they’re the ones making the pass before the assist, or the pass before the assist, the one opening up a perfect opportunity to make an assist. Second strikers often get those assists because they’re in a better position to make that final pass to a goalscorer, but the plays were generated by a midfield playmaker.

6. Dribbling (to get shots): going past challenges and in narrow spaces to get shots on goal. Messi’s best-known skill is dribbling past multiple defenders vertically but his deadliest weapon might be cutting in horizontally across the box and beating defenders before hitting a shot from right outside the box. Other famous dribblers include Maradona, Hazard, Neymar, etc.

7. [PM] Game-break dribbling, or beating the press: moving past an opposition player that is close to you, which means they’re further away from everyone else and that when you beat them off the dribble you end up taking that one player out of the opposition’s entire defensive formation and get the defense out of position. Iniesta was a master at this.

8. Trickery: closely related to dribbling, often considered part of dribbling. This is easy to spot when you see it: it includes things like stepovers, elasticos, etc. Regular dribbling uses touch and control to get past players and is often described as “the ball glued to his foot” or “gliding across the pitch”. Trickery is more stop-start and more obvious. Many great “pure” dribblers don’t use tricks often because its a bit stop-start and they keep it moving nonstop and they often play through the middle, but trickery is a staple of wing play where you’re facing up against a defender and need to beat them to get into the box or get a cross in. It’s also a good way to bait your defender into fouling you.

9. [PM] Creating space for others: game-break dribbling is one way to do this, but it’s a subtle skill that includes feints and fakes for misdirection, patience, timing, and skill. More common than the game-break dribble is being able to draw an opposing player in and then pass accurately out of that close mark instead of getting the ball stolen, which has opened up space for everyone else. Busquets, Modric, etc do this well. Thomas Muller is also a space master.

10. Positioning: being in “the right place at the right time”, what made players like Gerd Muller, Klose, and Inzaghi legends.

11. First touch: how well you can control passes. Can you control a hard or errant pass quickly? Does your first touch bring the ball down right by your foot, or does your first touch just stop the ball and knock it down a couple of feet away so you then need a second touch to get it in control? Can you bring down the ball exactly where you want it to go? A great first touch means:

a) you need very little space to control it, even if someone’s close to you, but if your first touch only lands the ball a couple of feet in front of you and you need to get a second with that slowed ball to control it then someone else could steal it.

b) you need very little time to control it because one touch takes less than two and this lets you get off moves before your defender can get set or the goalkeeper can react. Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Rooney, Bergkamp all had great first touches and could kill a difficult cross-field pass falling from way high dead. This is difficult because you have to position yourself perfectly to reach it, decelerate the ball from high speed into a stop without it just bouncing off your foot/body into another direction, and you have to stop the ball so it lands right where you want it for the move you’re trying to make.

12. Technique: like the first touch, but instead of bringing the ball to a dead stop, shooting without having to control it first. Volleys are the most common example. Zidane’s volley in the CL final was a wonderful bit of technique. Robin van Persie, Bergkamp, and Ibrahimovic also had incredible technique.

13. Finishing: getting the ball in the net whenever an opportunity is there, never missing chances you should be making. Lewandowski, Higuain (unless he’s in a high-stakes game or a final where he’s gonna choke and blow it), prime Suarez, Salah, Gerd Muller, and Inzaghi, all great finishers.

14. [PM] Decision-making: do you shoot when you should, pass when you should, hold the ball when you should, run with it when you should, do you make the right pass at the right time, etc. Bad decision-making can make incredibly talented players almost unplayable. Adama Traore is one of the best dribblers in the world. He had more successful take-on at a high volume than anyone else by far, almost to a comical extent. But last I heard of him, he was playing for Middlesborough. The main culprit was his decision-making, he just always made the wrong play even if he had so much technical skill. This also includes shot selection, whether you shoot and end a possession when holding onto it could have made a better chance.

15. Finishing counters: running and positioning to get on the end of a chance on the counterattack.

16. [PM] Leading counters: running and bringing the ball up the pitch quickly on the counterattack to get it to a finisher.

17. Free kicks, corners, penalties, headers, etc: pretty obvious.


This list is also why I think Messi is the most “complete” player in world football, maybe in history.

Messi is one of the best scorers of all time (#4 on the all-time official goals scored list, 8 goals behind Cristiano and 105 behind Pele), has some of the best movement, positioning, and finishing of all time.

He’s possibly the best through-ball passer in the world right now, only Ozil might compare. He’s one of the best at hitting long cross-field passes accurately, making Xabi Alonso-Esque passes regularly. Messi is the best assister in the world right now, with 25 or so assists almost every season, which is among the highest of all time. Messi might be the best pure playmaker in the world right now, at least top 3, and is among the best playmakers in history. Messi has incredible vision almost unrivaled in world football.

He has one of the best first touches in history: there’s a video where he brings a ball dropped from a ten-story height to a dead stop, and he brings high-speed errant passes to a stop like he has super-glue on his shoe almost every game. He has a case for greatest dribbler of all time, maybe only Maradona and Garrincha as competition.


He’s incredible at creating space. For the past 7–8 years, Messi has been the best free-kick taker in the world and is up there with the likes of Juninho in historical terms. He almost always makes the “right” play, what a coach would say if they were drawing up that play on a whiteboard, which is also explained by his very high conversion rate and assist numbers because he shoots in good opportunities and passes when there isn’t one.

Football, or any sport, rewards specialization. Human beings only have so much time to practice and develop any one skill. Time spent developing one, or natural talent at one thing, usually means time or talent taken away from a different thing. So most great players are very good overall and among the best in the world at one major skill: assists and chance creation for Ozil, finishing for Lewandowski, vision, and space for Thomas Muller, etc.

Being the best at one thing means you’re extremely valuable. And it just seems logical— if skill is the reward of hard work, it only makes sense that in an extremely competitive sport where everyone else is working extremely hard at developing their skills too, that you have to pick and choose where you put your time and effort developing.

Messi is an exception. He’s arguably the best in the world or at least top three in the world, and among the best in history, at scoring, finishing, positioning, passing, playmaking, assists, first touch, dribbling, space creation, game-breaking, vision, decision-making. It’s hard to argue for anyone in football right now to be better at most of those skills. It’s hard to reach double digits counting the best players in history at any one of those skills. He is arguably the best attacking midfielder, best second striker, and best forward in the world all at the same time.


Looking at the overall skill set, Messi is by far the more complete player. He seems to not be only if you condense every single aspect of offensive play, from the role of central midfielders to the role of attacking midfielders to that of support strikers to that of center-forwards, from every bit of the process, into just one thing and then give physique equal weight. I’ve found the standard used for “complete” in this argument a bit silly.

Content created and supplied by: DanielSampson_05 (via Opera News )

Messi Ronaldo

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