What they said: The 13 players to play alongside Messi and Ronaldo
The longstanding debate of Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi has divided football fans for over a decade – but what about the players who know them best?
The pair are regarded as two of the greatest footballers of all time and they have won 11 of the past 12 Ballon d’Or awards between them.
Here’s a selection of quotes from the few players fortunate enough to have played alongside Messi and Ronaldo, thanks to help from SPORTbible.
– “Cristiano is a perfect machine, a hard worker who always wants to improve,” Pique told Voetbal Magazine in 2014. “He is very demanding of himself, something that he showed at United.
“Many times conclusions are drawn based on specific actions without actually getting to know him. He has changed in recent years, I know him from United and he took to me well. He helped me a lot in Manchester.”
– “I always said that Messi has some talent that no one has,” Pique told BT Sport in 2016. “I mean, he has the ball and his speed controlling the ball. The ball doesn’t go two metres far from his foot, it’s always there. It’s impossible to catch him, this talent I didn’t see from anyone.
“But for me it’s like Messi is not human but [Ronaldo] is the best of the humans.”
Young Cristiano Ronaldo and Gerard Pique during their time at Manchester United. pic.twitter.com/FShS8S1jav
— Football Talent Scout – Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) January 23, 2020
– “Ronaldo is a very important player, who is always present and ready to play,” Gomes said in 2016. “He is very serious about the responsibility of leading our country, we have great spirit, and he’s a great example for all of us.”
– “Everyone knows that Messi is very, very good,” Gomes told L’Esportiu de Catalunya in 2016. “He does things in games that you cannot explain; he just knows different things and can do it.
“In training, it is a show, because every day he can invent something new. You think you’re used to it, but there is always one day you go to the dressing room surprised by something he has done.”
Imagine having to face Lionel Messi in training every day. Poor Ter Stegen. pic.twitter.com/VEDBd8Z3iU
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) January 5, 2018
– “We had already played together with Real,” Higuain told Fox News on Ronaldo in 2019. “Many years have passed, and I have found another player, a more mature person, with a family.
“I enjoyed playing alongside him before and I am glad that we are back together.”
– “I’m a forward and I have the chance to play with Messi. It’s a privilege to play alongside him,” Higuain said in 2012.
“Every time he gets the ball you need to be on your toes because you know that at any moment he can give you a great ball or pull your marker away from you. He does things that a striker can anticipate but a defender can’t.”
– “It is very hard to select the best footballer in the world,” Larsson told UEFA in 2007.
“There is so much difference between a defender and a striker, but Ronaldo is definitely one of the best. In his position, he is the best and he is probably the best player around at the moment.”
– Six years later, Larsson told Xarxa: “Cristiano is unlucky to be playing at the same time as Messi. Ronaldo is a very good player, but Messi is even better.
“He is from out of this world. He’s so good that it’s almost incredible. When you see him with the ball at his feet it’s hard to believe that anybody else could do the same. He’s a fantastic player to see.”
Henrik Larsson on playing with Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo
🗣"I couldn't see what Messi would become, He was good but I was playing with Ronaldinho as well" pic.twitter.com/FWdySL7AvL
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) February 26, 2020
– “Real Madrid have noticed his absence a lot,” Semedo told Portuguese channel SIC in 2019.
“I cannot say that it was bad for us (Barcelona) that Cristiano left. With him it would have been a more difficult league for us, more competitive. He (Ronaldo) is a player that requires a lot of attention and care.”
– “Speaking to Barcelona’s official website in 2017, Semedo said: “Messi is spectacular. It’s a privilege to play with him, he always surprises, he’s from another planet.”
– “When people ask me who is the best player ever, I say Leo,” Garay said in 2011. “From the first time I saw him with Argentina Under-15s to this day he continues to amaze me. He has no limit.”
– Speaking about Ronaldo, Deco told ESPN Brazil in 2015: “The guy is sick, I haven’t seen anyone in training sessions like that. I think it’s really difficult to be like that.
“They are completely different. Though Messi takes care of himself like a normal athlete, Ronaldo is unbelievable. It borders on sickness because he always wants to be the best at his job. He competes in everything.”
– “There is no doubt that Messi is the best player in the world, he does incredible things and keeps on breaking records,” Deco told Esports COPE in 2012.
“I think Cristiano is nearly as good as Messi. They are both phenomenal footballers, but in different ways. They are far and away the best footballers in the world.”
ON THIS DAY: In 2004, Lionel Messi made his La Liga debut for Barcelona, coming on as a sub for Deco. The rest… pic.twitter.com/OfU7e2nvfO
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 16, 2015
– “For me he [Ronaldo] is not number one. For me, the best in the world is Messi because of the way he plays, moves with the ball and changes matches,” Gago said. “Messi has incredible ability and I love the way that he plays.”
– “We know that he has the ability to win a match in half a second and that gives you peace of mind,” Gago told Marca on the subject of Messi in 2018.
“In every game I have the feeling that he can make us win at any time. Messi’s way of leading is with the ball, sometimes a glance is enough.
“He has an incredible personality, he understands the game perfectly, he has fought for 14 years to be the best without letting himself down, and that shows how he is.
“He is the best I have seen in my life, without a doubt.”
– “If I had to pay for one player I would choose him (Ronaldo),” Heinze told Sky Sports in 2008. “I don’t think Cristiano will get any better as a footballer, he is already next to God in his ability.”
– On Messi, Heinze told La Nacion in 2016: “Leo is inexplicable. Footballistically, he does not come from this planet. And as a person, he leads such a quiet life that is admirable.”
Angel di Maria
– Di Maria kept things simple when talking about Ronaldo to TyC Sports in 2020: “Cristiano is a monster.”
– And on the subject of Messi, Di Maria told Sport360 in 2014: “Messi is the best in the world – there is no question about that.
“We have seen time and time again that he wins games on his own when the team is not performing – but the media expect him to always be the hero.
“When I am an old man I will tell my grandchildren bedtime stories about when I won the Champions League, hopefully when I won the World Cup, but most of all I will tell them that their grandfather used to play with Lionel Messi.”
Who remembers Angel Di Maria’s rabona assist for Cristiano Ronaldo? 😱pic.twitter.com/K2CBciFCW5
— Goal (@goal) February 14, 2020
– Speaking to Argentine outlet Depor in 2018, Tevez said: “Cristiano always stopped in the gym after training: for him it is an obsession and, being the best in everything, he always arrived at work early.
“When the training was set for nine in the morning I arrived at eight and he was already there. Even if I arrived at 7.30 he was already there.
“I began to ask myself, ‘How can I get rid of this guy?’ So one day I arrived at six but he was already there! Sleepy, but he was there.”
– On Messi, Tevez told ESPN Argentina in 2018: “Messi plays another sport. For Messi to score three goals [in any given game] is normal.”
– “Of course I enjoy it (playing alongside Ronaldo),” Dybala told Tuttosport in 2019. “Cristiano’s a champion and it’s always a pleasure to play with guys like him. Ronaldo makes things that are very difficult actually seem easy.”
– On his Argentina team-mate, Dybala told Football France in 2017: “Leo is like Maradona for those of our generation. For me it’s an honour to play with him in the national team.
“He dragged us to the World Cup with the hat-trick in Ecuador. He is a born leader.”
– “The way he works,” Arthur told Marca when asked what surprised him about Ronaldo. “I already knew it because people talk, the world of football is small and they tell you about it. They tell you what he does, but when you see it up close it is impressive.
“There are days when we get back at two in the morning because we played late and he starts training.
“Who does that? Cristiano. I joke and tell him that he is sick, but what are you going to say to someone who has so many Ballons d’Or. Mentally he is very strong.”
– “They’re champions above all else,” Arthur told AS in 2020. “In this, Messi and Ronaldo are identical. Concentrated from start to finish, always.
“If they score three goals, they immediately think of the fourth. They never disconnect. It’s impressive and at the same time motivating, because they push you to do your best.
“Compared to Messi, Ronaldo talks more and is more accessible. He never backs down if there is a team-mate in need, and he inspires fierce determination.
“He trains like an animal, he doesn’t know what a break is, and he always encourages you to do your best. He leaves nothing to chance.”