From Mbappe to Zlatan, Neymar to Bale – world’s top players make their Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) selection

By Peter McVitie

It’s the debate that has raged on for over a decade: Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Which player is the greatest of all time? The most difficult question Is it Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
Everyone will have their own opinion on who is the better player of the two generational superstars, with both undoubtedly going down in history as two of the greatest to ever kick a football.
But what do some of the world’s top players think? Strap yourself in, this is the GOAT debate!

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Messi
AC Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic played alongside Messi at Barcelona and has backed the Argentine over Ronaldo on more than one occasion. “I think Messi is one of a kind,” he said in 2016. “What he’s doing, I don’t know if we will see another player do the things that he does. It is different [with Ronaldo] because he is the result of hard training. It is not natural.” In an interview with CNN, he reiterated his belief that Messi is top dog.

Bruno Fernandes – Ronaldo
Team-mates at club and international level, there was only going to be one winner for Bruno Fernandes!
“Cristiano is the best player in the world,” the midfielder said of his Manchester United and Portugal co-star. “He has played 15 years at the top and it’s difficult to do this.”

Neymar – Messi
Having played alongside Messi at both Barcelona and PSG, there was only going to be one winner for Neymar. “Playing alongside Leo was a unique experience and we became friends,” he said, when reflecting on the duo’s success they enjoyed together at Barca. “Of those I’ve seen play, Messi is the best in history.”

Gareth Bale – Ronaldo
Do we even need to ask the question?
Gareth Bale enjoyed years of success alongside Ronaldo as part of the famed ‘BBC’ triumvirate and although there were suggestions that the Welshman, and Karim Benzema, were both in the Portugal megastar’s shadow, the goals, and trophies, all three delivered together were simply remarkable.
“For me, the world’s best player is Cristiano Ronaldo,” Bale answered, when asked about his then-Madrid team-mate.

Ilkay Gundogan – Messi
Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan hasn’t had the fortune of playing alongside Messi or Ronaldo, but his opinion on who is the GOAT is clear. “Of course Messi,” the German midfielder responded when asked for his favourite. “No doubt… There’s no question.”

Bernardo Silva – Ronaldo
They may be on either side of the Manchester divide but City star Bernardo Silva ranked his Portugal team-mate ahead of Messi. “I think Cristiano, he doesn’t need to prove anything else,” he said. “What he’s done over the last 10-15 years, I think he’s shown to everyone that he’s the best player ever.”

Angel Di Maria – Messi
One of few to have played alongside both Messi and Ronaldo, Di Maria had a tough decision to make when asked who is the GOAT – and fair play to him for not sitting on the fence!
He told Marca in 2021: “Messi is from another world. You kick a ball at him and he stops it. I’ve never seen anything like it. “I played with Cristiano, Ney, Mbappe, Rooney, Van Persie, Ibrahimovic, Benzema, Bale and honestly I did not see anything like it. It is something unique.”

Romelu Lukaku – Ronaldo
Inter striker Romelu Lukaku felt the pressure when he was asked for his top choice during a press conference while on international duty with Belgium. The 29-year-old put his head in his hands and said: “Oh my god!” before finally saying: “Ronaldo, man.”

Andrew Robertson – Messi
Liverpool full-back Andrew Robertson, perhaps unsurprisingly, selected the Argentina icon as his favourite. The Scot faced Messi twice in the Champions League in 2019, including that epic night at Anfield that saw the Reds overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit to reach the final of the competition.
It was in that game that Robertson ruffled Messi’s hair as he clashed with the Argentine early on – an action he has since admitted he regrets, labelling his opponent “the best player that’s ever played this game.”

Marcus Rashford – Ronaldo
Another of Ronaldo’s Manchester United team-mates, Marcus Rashford was never going to risk upsetting the Portuguese. He may have taken his place in the starting XI – and is likely to keep him rooted to the bench in the near future – but Rashford has no doubt as to who is the GOAT.
He said on the debate: “It’s always Ronaldo for me.”

Marco Reus – Messi
Dortmund winger Marco Reus has played against both Messi and Ronaldo in the Champions League and has no obvious affiliation with either player. So who’s he going for?
Asked to pick between the two, after thinking for a few seconds, he declared: “Lionel Messi”.

Raphael Varane – Ronaldo
Manchester United centre-back Raphael Varane has played with Ronaldo at Real Madrid and now lines up alongside him at Old Trafford. The duo won countless titles together in Madrid, including two La Liga titles and an incredible four Champions Leagues. Indeed, in his Simply The Best appearance, the France international picked the Portuguese ahead of Messi as he told GOAL that Ronaldo is the best player he’s ever played alongside.

Declan Rice – Messi
West Ham and England midfielder Declan Rice, who revealed to GOAL in Box 2 Box that he owns a Ronaldo shirt, made his choice between the two GOATs when asked by us who he would prefer to play alongside. He opted for Messi, and has previously told Gary Neville on the debate: “You know what, it is such a hard question because obviously what he and Cristiano Ronaldo have done is a freak of nature, and nobody will ever do that ever again. “Messi, I just feel what he does with a football, he is just special, and I don’t think we will ever see a player like that ever again.”

Zinedine Zidane – Ronaldo
Coincidence? Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane both left Real Madrid in the summer of 2018 and there’s no doubting the mutual respect between the two. Indeed, with Ronaldo spearheading his attack alongside Bale and Benzema, Zidane led his side to three Champions League trophy wins, as well as a Liga title in 2016-17. Asked to pick between Ronaldo and Messi, Zidane has said in the past: “Cristiano is the best. Messi is his rival and it’s the rivalry everyone wants to see. But Ronaldo is phenomenal. There are no words to describe him. He is much better than me even though I had a great career. He’s the greatest of all time.”

Manuel Neuer – Messi
Bayern Munich and Germany international goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has seen it all during his career. He’s faced both Messi and Ronaldo on more than one occasion – so who does he think is the best?
In a simple one-word answer to ESPN when asked the question, he remarked: “Messi.”

Roberto Carlos – Ronaldo
Another legend that bleeds Real Madrid, Roberto Carlos nailed his colours to the mast in picking Ronaldo over Messi. He’s said on the GOAT debate previously: “I watch him (Cristiano) train every day and the way he works is exciting. He wants to improve every day. That’s the difference with Messi.
“Leo is a phenomenon, but that side of Cristiano, of training, professionalism, focus, motivation, success… Cristiano has an advantage over all the others.”

Ander Herrera – Messi
Despite his links with Manchester United, Ander Herrera has never played alongside Ronaldo. He has, however, shared a dressing room with Messi.
Discussing the Argentine’s adjustment to life at PSG, the midfielder, who recently moved on from Paris to re-join Athletic Club on loan, labelled Messi the “best in history”.
“Normally, regular players have to adapt to a new context,” he said.
“Now it is the other way around because we are talking about the best footballer in history.”

Gabriel Jesus – Messi
Another with no clear affiliation to either Messi or Ronaldo, the fact Gabriel Jesus was born in Brazil may have swayed his decision to avoid picking a South American rival.
It’s quite the opposite, however, with the Arsenal striker having previously said at a press conference while on international duty: “In my lifetime, I have seen very few of those who are said to be the best in history. Messi was, for me, the best I ever saw.”

Jan Oblak – Messi
The Atletico Madrid goalkeeper came up against both players several times during their historic spells in La Liga. Although he admires them both, he picked his favourite, telling GOAL: “It is a difficult question, yes, but with Messi I have always said it. “He is spectacular. He is at the highest level. For me he is the best.”

Kylian Mbappe

  • Messi & Ronaldo
    Ronaldo or Messi? Messi or Ronaldo? Mbappe can’t decide.
    The French forward grew up idolizing Ronaldo, but is now team-mates with Messi at PSG, so don’t make him choose between the two.
    “Who do I prefer? It’s like choosing between your father or your mother, you can’t,” Mbappe said.
    “As for all those of my generation, the Ballon d’Or is inevitably associated with the battle between Leo and Cristiano. Digging really deep into my memory, I also remember a little bit Ronaldinho (a Ballon d’Or winner in 2005).
    “But, frankly, everything is crushed by the greedy two! They have shared the prize for so long. Every year, like everyone else, I wondered which one of them would get it. Looking back, that battle was pretty crazy.”

What do you think?
Twelve Ballon d’Or awards, almost 1500 club goals and an absolute truckload of trophies between them. Choosing between Messi and Ronaldo is no easy task. Still, you’ve seen the opinions of some of the world’s best players of past and present, so who are you choosing? Messi or Ronaldo? Give us your GOAT verdict in the comments! –

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