Ronaldo or Messi: Which player influences their club's success more?

For years, discussions have been going on over who is the better player, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. If you were to bring this topic up the next time you are amongst friends you will hear new arguments every time. This report is here to throw some statistics behind the most common discussion in world football at the moment. To do this, we will be looking at not only the goals that both Ronaldo and Messi score, but how much of an impact they have on their team’s success and how important they are as an individual to the entire team. All the goal data shown in this report are from the following competitions:

• La Liga
• Copa Del Rey
• Champions League
• Spanish Super Cup
• UEFA Super Cup
• FIFA Club World Cup

For the purposes of this report, no friendly games were taken into account and no games played for international teams. As Cristiano Ronaldo only moved to Real Madrid in 2009 we have taken data from the 09/10 season onwards to ensure we can get the best comparison. All this data is from games played up until 30th April 2016. 2 reoccurring terms you will see are ‘1st Goal’ and ‘Winning Goal’. For the purpose of this report, the definitions of both these terms have been defined below:

• 1st Goal – the 1st Goal of the game whilst the match is 0-0
• Winning Goal – a game winning goal, e.g. if a team wins 5-2, their 3rd goal in the game winning goal

We will be comparing Ronaldo and Messi in 5 different areas, picking a winner from each section to determine their all-around effectiveness on their club. This in turn should then give us an overall result and put an end to biggest argument in world football currently; Ronaldo or Messi?

Goals, Goals, Goals
For the following set if graphs and tables, we looked at 372 Lionel Messi goals from 366 appearances and 360 goals from Ronaldo in 344 appearances. From a quick glance at these stats we can see that the goals per game ratio are very similar for both with Ronaldo at 1.05 whilst Messi comes in at 1.02. Not much to separate them here and whilst this shows their ability to find the back of the net a lot, a way to further compare is to see how many games they have scored in compared to how many they have played.

Here Ronaldo ever so slightly edges Messi scoring in 63% of his games with Messi at 62%. Still not enough to settle the argument so let’s have a closer look at where these goals have been scored. Having scored such a large amount of goals it is important to know where these have been scored. The following two charts show the competitions they have both scored in most, unsurprisingly the league has the largest given it contains the most amount of games per season, however interestingly Ronaldo has the higher percent in both the League and Champions League (arguably the two most important competitions they take part in each season).

So whilst Messi has a better spread of goals across competitions, are Ronaldo’s goals therefore more important because of the competitions he is scoring most in? Again not a lot of difference here so let’s take one more step into these goals and look at who they have been scored against. One argument which has been mentioned before is that both Barcelona and Real Madrid have had the league to themselves for years, (with the exception of Atletico Madrid’s recent rise under Simeone) and that they are both good at hammering the smaller teams in the league, are they only able to score against the lesser teams or are they able to produce the goods against anyone? Below are charts of their top 10 opponents in terms of goals scored:

Here interestingly we have some differences, with Messi’s top 4 including Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Real Madrid and Valencia, the biggest names in La Liga whilst Ronaldo’s contains teams such as Getafe and Celta Vigo. Does Ronaldo therefore match the impression of some people that he can only ‘hammer smaller teams’ whereas Messi can produce against anyone?
Both have a similar goals ratio (Ronaldo at 1.05 and Messi at 1.02) as well as scoring in a similar amount of games (Ronaldo 63% and Messi 62%) but in both cases, it is Ronaldo who comes out on top.

Round 1 Verdict: Ronaldo

One man team?
We have seen how many goals they score, how often and who against, but this doesn’t show us how much of an impact they have on their team. This section will look at how the goals they score compare to their teams overall goals scored. From the 09/10 season onwards Barcelona has scored a total of 1120 goals in the competitions mentioned earlier and of these, a total of 372 were scored by Messi. Real Madrid has scored slightly less in the same amount of seasons at 1046 with Ronaldo claiming 360 of them.

A very close outcome with only 1% difference (1.21% to be exact) but with Ronaldo taking claiming this slight edge once again. Although there is not much to separate Ronaldo and Messi, these numbers should still be admired with them scoring a 3rd of all the goals scored by their teams in the past 7 seasons! This section is key when talking about team influence and being a key player and even though it is a small margin, it is Ronaldo which has come out ahead.

Round 2 Verdict: Ronaldo

El Clasico
The El Clasico, one of the biggest games in European football, showcasing 22 of the greatest players and quite often can be title deciders. A goal in these games can quite often mean more than 3 points. What better way of measuring whether Ronaldo and Messi can score against the big clubs than by looking at goals scored against each other and in what competitions they have been scored? How have they fared in El Clasico matches and how many of them have been 1st or ‘winning’ goals?

Once again Ronaldo edges this competition with 1 more goal than Messi with 16 goals against Barcelona compared to Messi’s 15 against Real Madrid. They are level in the amount of goals scored in the league with 8 a piece however Ronaldo’s dominance in the Copa Del Rey matches has taken him ahead. How many of these goals have actually led to success though?

Here again we see very similar stats with them both scoring the ‘Winning’ goal on 4 occasions, but Ronaldo notching the 1st goal on one more occasion than Messi. As this isn’t enough to help make a decision, let’s see in what competition these goals have come, first we will look at the 1st goals scored:

Here we see Messi’s goals, although he has one less, have arguably come in the more prestigious competitions with 2 league and 1 Champions League goal whereas 3 of Ronaldo’s 4 1st goals have been in either Copa Del Rey or Spanish Super Cup. 1st goals are important yes but ‘winning goals’ are better as these are game deciders, league and cup winning goals.

A similar story to the 1st goals chart appears here with 3 out of Ronaldo’s 4 match winning goals coming in the Copa Del Rey and Spanish Super Cup again and whilst Messi has the same 2 match winning league goals and 1 match winning Champions League goal, he also chips in with a Spanish Super Cup winning goal to equal Ronaldo’s. With Ronaldo scoring one extra goal to Messi, the decision here has to come based on the importance of these goals and Messi has produced 1st and winning goals in the more prestigious competitions.

Round 3 Verdict: Messi

When the going gets tough
Being a big influence on your club means more than just scoring goals when the work is already done, it is about that battle for the winning goal in a stalemate game or being able to spark a comeback when losing. How effective are both Ronaldo and Messi at scoring when they are winning, drawing and losing a game, this will show us in more depth how much of a vital part they are in their clubs success.

Again we have reasonably similar looking results when comparing such a large amount of goals and Messi takes the lead in the winning and drawing categories how in arguably the most important and influential category (losing) it is Ronaldo that leads the way. To better see how they fare, we converted the above chart into percentages of their goals scored.

Ronaldo now overtakes Messi in the two most important sections (drawing and losing) whilst almost drawing level in the winning category. Judging by these, if you are struggling to grind out a result, it is Ronaldo you want on the pitch, rather than Messi.

Round 4 Verdict: Ronaldo

1st Goals, Winning Goals and Points
How far have these goals scored when winning, drawing or losing actually gone though, have they been able to go on secure the game to convert those goals into points. We tracked the amount of ‘Winning’ goals scored as well as the goals they have scored to earn their team a draw to see how many points they contribute per season. This data therefore only looks at league games where points are actually on offer.

The 1st goal in a game can be the most important, as it can set a team on their way to victory. To be a big influence on a club, the ability to score the 1st goal in a game is something they should do on a regular basis.

We see here two very different lines, with Ronaldo having taken a couple of seasons to really make an impact as a 1st goal scorer before having 4 very good seasons, scoring more than Messi year on year. Whilst Messi has had ups and downs having 2 of his best seasons in 09/10 and 10/11, before dropping down to just 9 1st goals in the 12/13 season and then climbing back up over the next 2 seasons. A strong link to show here is that Messi’s two best seasons in terms of 1st goals were 10/11 and 14/15, both seasons Barcelona won the Champions League. Once again this season we see a struggle for them to emulate their previous years successes which in Ronaldo’s case could be the reason behind them sitting 3rd in la Liga, however in Messi’s case he has had Suarez scoring a lot of goals to counter his decrease in 1st goals scored.

This chart has some similarities and differences to the 1st goals chart with them both rising to a great year in the 11/12 season with them drifting off in recent years. A total of 102 ‘Winning Goals’ from Messi over the past 7 years is only combated by 100 from Ronaldo but with Messi showing slightly more consistency over the years with Ronaldo’s up and down seasons. What do these goals transfer into though, are they actually winning their team points through these goals by being able to keep the team on track for victory after netting a goal to put their team ahead. This graph shows the amount of points won per season in the league.

Here we see a good comparison per season of how effective they have been over the past 7 seasons, whereby they both had a strong season in 11/12 with Messi then going on to do better the following year with Ronaldo taking a large drop before then levelling out at the mid 30’s mark for the past few seasons with Messi also dropping down season by season since his high of 45 in the 12/13 season. They have both had a roller coaster time over the past 7 seasons but have slowly declined in the past few. Is this the slow demise of 2 of the most influential strikers in world football in recent years with them both winning less points this season than they have since 09/10.

Whilst we saw more consistency in the ‘1st Goals’ section from Ronaldo, scoring a total of 96 compared to Messi’s 90, it was Messi who was the more consistent when it came to ‘Winning Goals’. In terms of points however, it was Ronaldo who took a marginal lead again by winning his team a total of 219 points since 2009 with Messi earning 215.

Round 5 Verdict: Ronaldo

Argument settled?
It is clear to see that there is very little difference between Ronaldo and Messi and with only very small differences over 7 season’s worth of data, they have proved that over the years they have both been very reliable and a huge influence on the success of their respective clubs. They would both be a huge asset at any team but out of the 5 areas we have just looked at to pinpoint their individual stats, it was Ronaldo who pipped Messi to the post in 4 of them. Over the course of this report it seems as though for pure goal scoring power, Ronaldo comes out just ahead, however are Real Madrid too reliant on Ronaldo, although Messi may not score as often, he produces the goods in the bigger games more often proven by the fact Messi has won 18 trophies (4 League, 2 Copa Del Rey, 4 Super Cup, 2 Champions Leagues, 3 UEFA Super Cups and 3 FIFA Club World Cups) since 2009 compared to Ronaldo’s 7 (1 League, 2 Copa Del Rey, 1 Super Cup, 1 Champions League, 1 UEFA Super Cup and 1 FIFA Club World Cup).

Although there will be fans of both Ronaldo and Messi who will never change their mind, this report should hopefully shed some light on the numbers behind 2 of the greatest footballers around and will give more fuel to the fire of the most common argument in pubs around the country, Ronaldo or Messi?