Cristiano Ronaldo can take pride in another honour, although this time, it is not quite an official award: Brazilian legend Pele finally believes the Real Madrid man has surpassed Lionel Messi as the best player in the world.
Pele had been a longtime vocal supporter of Messi, but he told ESPN FC last week that Ronaldo now holds the top spot in his view partially due to a string of injuries for the Argentine.
“I think, no doubt, two years ago the player that was in very, very good condition was Messi,” Pele said on the ESPN FC TV show. “In five years he became the best player in Europe, but in the last two years and this year, he had a problem: he got injured. He was out this year and he has played few games.”
Messi has had several muscular injuries in the past year and did not play for Barcelona for almost two months. As a result, he has failed to recreate his most scintillating form.
“Ronaldo has come through for the past two or three years and is the best in Europe,” Pele said. “I think at the moment no doubt Ronaldo is the best player, but until now, Messi was the best.”
The Portuguese winger has had arguably the best year of his career. He scored 69 goals in 59 games, single-handedly dragged his nation to the World Cup with a second-leg hat trick against Sweden, and put the cherry on top by claiming his second Ballon d’Or ahead of Messi and Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery.
Pele himself is a legitimate contender every time fans debate over the mythical Greatest of All Time title, and by the end of their careers, Ronaldo and Messi could join that conversation.
Pele said in his interview that while he would relish the opportunity to play with either Messi or Ronaldo, he would prefer the Real Madrid star as a former teammate at Santos.
“Messi used to do the same thing as I used to do at Santos: to come from behind,” he said. “Ronaldo used to play more up front, so I think for me Ronaldo is more important because he is the player who scores goals from the front. I would have to compete with Messi because we have the same game and do the same [on the field]. I think Ronaldo, for Santos [in Pele’s time], would be better.”