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Some days ago, Ecos del Balón, a Spanish football website I really like and enjoy, posted a video on YouTube where they discuss whether Cristiano Ronaldo is the best goalscorer of all-time. They unanimously agreed that ‘Yes, he is the best goalscorer of all-time.’ This is not a new opinion or statement, as we have witnessed many other analysts, journalists and football fans express the exact same opinion.

I don’t agree with this conclusion at all. While it’s impossible for me to define or have a say whether Cristiano Ronaldo is the best goalscorer of all-time, I can argue that he is not the best goalscorer of our time (recent years). You can have a guess on who might be better than him…yes, a certain Lionel Messi. My approach is that Cristiano Ronaldo is truly an unbelievable goalscorer, but Lionel Messi is a better one.

It is quite evident that football-related numbers are often used out of context and many times they fail to give any insight. It is also clear that, if there is an aspect of the game where numbers can be used without much hesitation, it is when analyzing goalscoring. Thus, I prepared some fast and very simple goalscoring comparisons between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Let’s initially consider their career goals for club and country (Fig 1). Both players have scored an incredible high amount of goals but one of them has scored more frequently than the other. Messi’s goals/game ratio is 0.789, 15.5% higher than Cristiano’s 0.683.

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Fig 1 – Career goals / game ratio for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for club and country.

How does their goals/game ratio vary through their career? The graph in Fig 2 rank their seasons in terms of goals/game ratio starting from the highest to the lowest. Here both players show very similar patterns. Messi’s goalscoring peak is higher, while Cristiano seems to perform in a more consistent manner. Both have the same number of seasons (eight) in elite goalscoring level, although Messi started his club career two years later.

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Fig 2 – Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s club seasons ranked according to their goals / game ratio (from highest to lowest).

Maybe Messi’s most advantageous aspect of goalscoring, when compared to Cristiano, is the fact that he is much more efficient, i.e. needs less shots to score. This is an aspect that many people, probably unconsciously, tend to neglect. To illustrate this, I have prepared three simple comparisons of their shot conversion (ratio between goals scored and shots taken) from three points of view: total goals, goals from out of the penalty box, and goals with their ‘weak’ foot.

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Fig 3 – Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s shot conversion (goals scored / shots taken) for all their goals.

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Fig 4 – Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals and shot conversion (goals scored / shots taken) from out of the penalty box.

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Fig 5 – Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals and shot conversion (goals scored / shots taken) considering their ‘weak’ foot (right foot for Messi; left foot for Cristiano).

There is a significant difference, no? These numbers also may provide arguments against some ‘myths’ or ‘consolidated opinions’ often used when both players are compared. Opinions like ‘Cristiano has a better shot from the distance’ or ‘Cristiano uses both feet’, etc.

Again, Cristiano Ronaldo is incredible as a goalscorer. There is nothing to argue about it, he is really amazing. Lionel Messi is a better one. Messi needs less playing time and shots to score the same amount of goals as Cristiano. I also don’t think that this is the key aspect when comparing them to each other, since Messi could be easily regarded the best player in the world even if he had lower goalscoring numbers. It just happens that besides being an incredible playmaker, dribbler, passer, etc, Lionel Messi is also an extremely good goalscorer, arguably better than Cristiano Ronaldo.

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