While the star quality of one Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubted, few have taken to questioning whether the pair are truly the greatest the football universe has ever seen.
Both players have a plethora of awards which underline their greatness but the question that begs is: have they won everything there is to win? To put this into perspective, in history, there are just seven players to ever win the World Cup, the Champions League and the Ballon d’Or.
And so too have Messi and Ronaldo, except one; that elusive Fifa World Cup winners medal. To this end, many a football pundit would agree that the addition of a World Cup to their CV’s would undoubtedly make one, if not both of them, the great of a generation and more importantly, of all time.
Football’s fantastic four, magnificent seven
In football, as in the Marvel universe, there exists a ‘fantastic four’. This group comprises of none other than Pelé, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Johann Cruyff and Diego Maradona. Perhaps, though, what we should really be talking about is the ‘magnificent seven’:
Bobby Charlton; Gerd Müller; Franz Beckenbauer; Paolo Rossi; Kaká; Ronaldinho; and Zinedine Zidane. They are the only players in history to have won the World Cup, the Champions League/ European Cup and the Ballon d’Or.
Messi and Ronaldo miss out…
The Argentine maestro and the Portuguese superstar, serial winners of all the club and individual prizes going, do not make this select group as they have never managed to lift the global game’s top international trophy with their respective countries. However, there can be no doubt that this does little justice to the exploits of both.
And just as Messi and Cristiano miss out, so too do other all-time greats, such as Ronaldo Nazário and Rivaldo. Both Brazilians won the World Cup and the Ballon d’Or, but not the Champions League. The former came close with Real Madrid, while the latter – in an unprecedented twist of fate – parted company with AC Milan in 2003, the year that the Rossoneri claimed the trophy.
Another notable absentee is Milan legend Paolo Maldini, who, but for Liverpool’s incredible comeback in Istanbul in 2005, would have equalled Paco Gento’s record individual haul of six European Cup winners’ medals, but fell just short of the mark. With this, it will remain to be seen whether football’s ‘modern-day greats’ will one day sport football’s greatest international club prize, or be forever remembered as the greatest to have never won it.