If Ronaldo wins Euros 2024, the G.O.A.T. debate with Messi reopens

If Ronaldo wins Euros 2024, the G.O.A.T. debate with Messi reopens

Updated Jun. 22, 2024 6:03 p.m. ET

Whisper it now: The most fun, entertaining, infuriating, contentious and passionate debate in soccer could suddenly be about to fully reopen.

To all except a blinkered minority — actually a pretty big minority still — Lionel Messi clinched everlasting victory in the G.O.A.T. discussion (or at least the greatest of modern times), when he won the World Cup for Argentina in Qatar in 2022.

Cristiano Ronaldo, it seemed, might still have his gleaming smile and rippling abs at age 39, but was surely destined to go down in history as the B-side of the most elite and exclusive club soccer has ever seen.

But maybe there is a final twist coming. Portugal has made a spectacular start to Euro 2024 and Ronaldo, in a slightly adapted striker role, is a major part of it.


Roberto Martinez's men have won both of their games so far, and only two other teams can boast that. More importantly, Portugal has looked just as good as its qualifying record of 10 interrupted victories suggested. Since falling behind to Czechia in its opener, it has moved the ball with imperious grace and effect. Turkey, on Saturday, was ripped apart, 3-0.

Even though Portugal has sealed first place in Group F with a game to spare, there is still a long way to go. Major competitions like this are essentially two separate tournaments, and there is still a 16-team viper pit of a knockout bracket to come.

That said, Portugal looks as fluid, content and confident as anyone.

So, what of the legacy debate? Messi has a Copa América and a World Cup to his name, Ronaldo has a Euro championship from 2016. At the club level, both have won everything there is to win, multiple times.

If Argentina falters in the Copa and Ronaldo levels the score in terms of international titles, having played with a national team support crew that was weaker than Messi's for most (but not all) of his career, it would give his G.O.A.T. backers a heavy helping of persuasive ammunition.


The pair have played for so long, and this storyline has been around for so many years, that most people's minds are irretrievably made up by now. 

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Some of it is based on personal preference. Both players have been so ridiculously good, and won so darn much, that often the choice is made on who you prefer to watch, what style you like, or which personality you are more attracted to.

They are wildly different characters. 

Ronaldo is the ultimate showman, Messi is that much quieter and more spotlight-averse.

One point that should be addressed, but not belabored, is whether this is truly a GO.A.T. debate at all. It is a little complicated, and the best way to break it down is like this:

Going back in soccer time, the chasm between Brazil legend Pele and any of his contemporaries might have been bigger than the gap Messi and Ronaldo have held over the field this past decade and a half. The same goes for Diego Maradona during his pomp of the mid-1980s.

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But the sport has never been played at a higher level than the one so metronomically displayed by Ronaldo and Messi, and it's not particularly close. Sure, defenders were rougher back in the day. Pitches weren't so carpeted and sleek, although the one Messi opened Copa América on in Atlanta wasn't much fun to hang out on.

The drive, the training hours, the sports science advances, the way they have looked after themselves, put these guys ahead of anyone that came before them in a pure like-for-like sense.

They are magically skilled and are also phenomena, individually and together. Ronaldo an absolute physical beast, Messi a technical wizard of ridiculous proportions. 

This column isn't an attempt to settle the Ronaldo vs. Messi debate. You'd need a book to do that, and there still would likely be no consensus. 

It was more a look at what it would take for the argument to reopen, because, let's face it, we've missed it these past 18 months.

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The answer to that is, if the flames of debate are to really heat up before us once more, Ronaldo needs to win the Euros. Nothing else suffices.

It begins with Portugal's remaining group fixture against Georgia (Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX), continuing with its round of 16 against a TBD opponent (July 1, 3 p.m. ET on FOX), and is pointed all the way toward mid-July in Berlin.

If it happens, whew, there's not going to be a definitive answer. Frankly, there'll never be that, not unanimously. 

But the conversation, the one we all love and all have a take on, will be back in play. Which, in itself, is good enough cause for celebration.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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