Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are amongst the greatest footballers of all time, but the comparison between the two players continues to ramble on several years after their professional debuts. With a staggering 11 Ballon d'Or awards and several other individual accolades between them, the legendary attackers have defined the modern era of the beautiful game and inspired a generation of footballers.
Another player who has had a similar impact is Sunil Chhetri, who is hailed as the shining light of Indian football. The Bengaluru FC captain is one of the greatest footballers the country has produced and continues to lead the Blue Tigers despite being 36 years of age.
Chhetri is an avid follower of European football and hasn't been shy of voicing his opinion over the years. When the Indian captain was asked to choose between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo by Sportstar in 2020, he admitted that he's a massive fan of the Argentine, who he went on to describe as "different."
“In fact, even before this interview I was stretching and was watching a Lionel Messi video. And that really lifts me up. If anyone in the world is sad, just put on Messi video and he’ll be happy.”
"I love to follow Cristiano Ronaldo, too. For me, it’s a very good example of how much hard work he puts in. When it comes to learning, I follow Cristiano Ronaldo’s stuff more but I just enjoy watching Lionel Messi. The kind of goals he scores, his dribbles, his nutmegs, his understanding of the game, his touches are unbelievable.”
"I don’t think you can teach anyone that, you know - you can’t teach someone to dribble five players in your own box. The coach will probably never play you again (if you did that)! But then you watch Messi dribbling five players his box… he’s just different.”
Sunil Chhetri's comments on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo puts things in perspective
While Chhetri indicated that he believes Lionel Messi is the superior player, he was also quick to praise Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar has scored all kinds of goals for club and country over the course of his career and has proved his mettle in England, Spain and Italy after bursting onto the scene in Portugal.
When asked to compare both players based on their completeness, Chhetri lavished praise on the Juventus star's all-round ability and spoke in detail about the playing styles of the two attackers.
“If you say that, then I will say Cristiano Ronaldo. I mean it’s close. The moment you say complete, it’s about height, heading ability, shooting with both feet, coming back to defend corners also – so in that aspect, yes, Ronaldo.”
“But generally as a player, there’s no comparison between Lionel Messi and anyone else. He’s just a level up – he’s completely different. If you ask me who affects the game more, it has to be Messi. The build-up play, the passes, the assists, and understanding. The value of him in Barcelona or Argentina gives him a little edge over Ronaldo. I think he’s the best player.”
The Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo debate has gone on for over a decade, with fans of both players engaging in heated debates on social media. Chhetri gave his opinion on the matter and urged fans across the globe to enjoy both players, as he described the legendary attackers as "pure geniuses."
“I see a lot of people who like Messi, and in return hate Ronaldo and vice versa. But you cannot hate either of them. You can be a fan of one. Suppose Ronaldo is playing against your team, you don’t want him to do well and that’s normal. But hating one of them doesn’t make sense because they’re pure geniuses. They give so much joy!"
While it's unfair to compare Chhetri's ability as a player to that of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the Indian captain's international goalscoring record puts him amongst the all-time greats. In 115 games, Chhetri has a staggering 72 goals, putting him 11th on the all-time goalscorers chart.
Cristiano Ronaldo crossed a century of goals recently and is currently on 102, with Iranian legend Ali Daei leading the charts with 109 international goals. Lionel Messi, on the other hand, has 71 goals in 142 appearances for Argentina and will look to add to his tally in the Copa America later this year.