An Economist's View of the Ronaldo-Messi Debate

The Economist, the highly-regarded British pub covering politics, finance and anything else it thinks smart people (or in the case of Off The Post, people who use its opinions as proxies for their own when they want to sound smart at cocktail parties) should know about, thinks it has definitely solved the case through a very detailed (and very hard to follow) statistical analysis about who really is the best soccer player in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

The debate needs absolutely no set-up. Forget about soccer fans, anyone who pays any kind of attention to news knows exactly who these two guys are and is more than likely aware of their rivalry. That Cristiano plays for Real Madrid and Messi for its hated rival Barcelona may be more advanced information for some, but it’s a debate that has pretty much become part of global popular culture.   

Which is probably why The Economist sought to “end” the debate. Though Cristiano holds the last two FIFA Ballon d’Ors, awarded to the world’s best player every year, the paper finds that Messi is indeed the best, and through its confusing analysis of goals-that-count-more-than-others, he was even still the best during the last two campaigns, even though Cristiano took home the FIFA award on both occasions and scored 105 goals to Messi’s 86. 

OTP is not going to share with you The Economist’s methodology, because he’s still not even sure he understands it completely, but if you want to try, you can find the full article here

It’s worth noting, however, that there are some interesting disclosures and omissions to this hallowed analysis. For starters, it is primarily about the weighted importance of goals. There is no quantification or qualification through numbers of the defending or playmaking ability of either player, though the piece admits that both defending and playmaking are a large part of the beautiful game. 

There is also a greater weighted importance placed on both players’ performances (in terms of goals) at the World Cup. Of the two, Messi obviously had the more impactful World Cup, winning the Golden Ball, which is awarded to the tournament’s best player, and leading Argentina to the final. Cristiano’s Portugal, by comparison, played just three matches and bowed out in the first round, with the Real Madrid star scoring just one goal to Messi’s four.

Now,The Economist is free to judge the players solely on their goal-scoring exploits if it wants to, but in the opinion of OTP, it should also put some kind of weighted emphasis on the successes of the teams they represent, too. Messi may have led (at least in the beginning of the tournament) Argentina to the World Cup final last year, but neither Argentina nor Barcelona actually won anything in 2014. Cristiano, on the other hand, despite an injury-laden World Cup with Portugal, led Real Madrid to the UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey titles.

In the opinion of many soccer purists, winning the UCL is an even greater achievement than winning a World Cup, as the quality of the latter is greatly diminished by the fact that you’re watching a group of players who really don’t get to play together very often. Timing often has a lot more to do with winning FIFA’s showcase than winning the UCL, which plays out over a much longer period of time and doles out much stronger, better-organized opponents.

All of which is to say, let the debate go on, because when it comes to crowning the best player on earth, it really doesn’t matter if you prefer Messi or Ronaldo. Regardless of what anyone says, they are the two most dominant players to grace our presence since Pele, and some would argue that they are heads and shoulders above the rest in a far stronger league than the one O Rei dominated.


3 comments about "An Economist's View of the Ronaldo-Messi Debate".
  1. Thomas Brannan, March 28, 2015 at 4:02 a.m.

    Here is my complete analysis in detail.
    "Messi is the best".

  2. Juan R, March 28, 2015 at 10:25 a.m.

    Winning UEFA's Champions League is harder than a world cup??? Just the simple fact that there is one world cup every four years, makes it a harder goal to achieve. Anyway I agree with the Economist... Messi is the best!

  3. Kent James, March 29, 2015 at 1:36 p.m.

    Ronaldo is amazing, but Messi is better. Not as impressive as Ronaldo, but more effective. Ronaldo's athleticism and fancy footwork can be mesmerizing, but Messi just takes the ball, attaches it to his foot, and then moves past his opponents until he either passes or scores. He makes it look simple, which it is, at least if you operate in a different time dimension...

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