Cruyff: Messi will be a great, maybe not Ronaldo
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is on his way to becoming one of football's all-time best players, according to former Netherlands great Johan Cruyff. Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo, however, may not be joining him.
Messi has scored 48 goals in all competitions so far this season, and his next match will be Saturday against Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates. No Spanish league player has ever scored 50 goals in a season.
''Yes he's on his way,'' Cruyff said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ''He's just played now four years or something like that and the others have played at least 14 years, so he's got 10 more years to go with same quality and, hopefully, same success.''
The 23-year-old Messi has scored 95 goals in his last 99 games and helped Barcelona to eight trophies over the past two seasons, which were both capped with world player of the year accolades.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, endured a trophyless first year with Madrid in 2010 after six successful seasons at Manchester United. The Portugal forward doesn't want Madrid to go three straight seasons without silverware, but Barcelona and Messi stand in the way.
The pair will play in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday before meeting in two legs of the Champions League semifinals.
But as much as Cruyff, a former Barcelona star, believes Messi is worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Pele, Diego Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano, he's not as convinced about Ronaldo.
''A little more difficult, I think,'' Cruyff said about the 2008 world player of the year. ''All the people mentioned were players from the street and Ronaldo is more of a physical player, while in the others mentioned are not physical players (but) pure technical players - pure technique.''
Two-time defending champion Barcelona holds an eight-point lead over Madrid in the Spanish league going into Saturday's match, the first of four meetings between the rivals in less than three weeks.
According to the El Pais newspaper, Ronaldo has taken on his personal rivalry against Messi with such newfound focus that he is reportedly being nicknamed ''The Anxious One'' inside Madrid's locker room. Ronaldo, who has scored 39 goals in 47 games, has yet to score in six games against Barcelona, with one victory and four losses.
Barcelona has won a record five straight times against it's biggest rival, including November's 5-0 rout at the Camp Nou.
Even England coach Fabio Capello appeared to select Messi over Ronaldo when asked Thursday which of the two players he would pick if he could nationalize just one for his current team.
''Ronaldo knows English and (Messi) knows football,'' Capello said.
Against Madrid, Messi will be looking to end his own drought. The diminutive Argentine, nicknamed ''The Flea,'' has yet to score against a team coached by Jose Mourinho.
One thing both Messi and Ronaldo do have in common is a failure to win titles on the international stage, which could be the ultimate decider of their place in history, according to Cruyff.
Whether Maradona or Messi is regarded as Argentina's most revered player will also likely hang on the World Cup, Cruyff said.
''(Messi's) got qualities similar to Maradona, who was a player, too, who did a lot of individual stuff,'' the 63-year-old Dutchman said. ''People will connect a good player with the results they achieved in their career and Maradona of course won the world championship and that's what Messi didn't win and it will be (decided on) something like that.
''But for me, today, Messi is a great player.''