Messi Greatest Player; Ronaldo Greatest Winner

Messi, technically, is peerless, SI's Ben Straus says, but Ronaldo grinds out results in "magical" ways

Tiki and Tierney
June 18, 2018 - 8:00 pm

USA Today Images

Two of the best soccer players in the world – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – have already taken center stage in the World Cup. Last Friday, Ronaldo had a hat trick, single-handedly bringing Portugal back from the brink in an epic 3-3 tie with Spain. On Saturday, meanwhile, Messi missed a penalty kick in Argentina’s 1-1 tie with Iceland.

Portugal and Argentina both received one point for their efforts, but many deemed Ronaldo the GOAT and Messi, well, the goat.

“Messi is the greatest soccer player I’ve ever been able to watch live in person, but Ronaldo is the greatest winner I’ve ever seen,” Sports Illustrated soccer writer Brian Straus said on Tiki and Tierney. “He has intangibles and he has an ability to master the moment and make his teammates better and grind out results in a way that’s just magical. I think those are the differences between the two guys. Messi, technically, is peerless. But Ronaldo has just got the intangibles. It’s pretty amazing to watch him do that.”

Ronaldo buried a free kick in the 87th minute to rescue Portugal. Messi, on the other hand, could have given Argentina a 2-1 lead over Iceland, but keeper Hannes Halldorsson stonewalled the spot-kick. 

Messi was devastated.

“That was the look and the feel of the guy who took all of his team’s success and failure on his shoulders personally, where it affected him to the core of his being,” Straus said. “That’s Messi. Messi is just this sensitive, kind of strangely wired guy. When they lost the Copa America final to Chile two years ago, he announced his international retirement after the game. He was so emotional. He’s a guy who just simply isn’t able to sort of shed the emotional and psychological burden of being the guy and trying to carry his entire country’s fortunes.”

And those fortunes, make no mistake, run deep. And hungry.

“Argentina loves soccer a much as Americans love all of our major sports put together,” Straus said. “There’s just nothing like it there. If you go to a game in one country on the planet, it should be Argentina – and it’s clearly wearing on him. It’s clearly a burden. Maybe he shouldn’t take the penalty kick. For other guys on his team, (they’re kicking a ball) at a goal. For (Messi), it’s life or death – his legacy, his eternity, his everything. It’s just too much for him.”