Settling the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate once and for all

Author’s note: You can check out the full research that went into this piece at this link.

By Lucien Betancourt

To answer the question of who the most prolific goal scorer in the world is, one method is obvious: tally up the total number of goals and just decide off of that. While this method makes sense, it’s pretty broad and ignores the strength of the opponents a scorer faces. A goal against a top club such as Bayern Munich is surely valued much more than a goal scored against a smaller club like Villarreal.

To address these factors, we will be counting goals based on the strength of the opponent, including both club football and national teams. Each team will be assigned a number for which the higher it is, the better the team is. Goal scaling will be based on the number of teams in each part of pro soccer: a 20 point scale for the 20 league clubs, a 64-point scale for the 64-team Champions League, and a 210-point scale for the 210 unique nations in FIFA.

First, let’s look at the factor of adjusted-value club goals, which will be determined by the expression ((20-APPS)G)/20. APPS is a new stat I invented that stands for Average Placing per Season, or an average of each clubs’ placings in their respective leagues. G simply stands for the total goals against every club. Since there are 20 teams in the leagues Messi and Ronaldo have played in, the value for the club’s strength domestically is determined by subtracting the APPS from 20 for the 20 clubs in the league. This value is then multiplied by the number of goals against a given club and then divided by 20, which again represents the 20 clubs in each league. This equation will decrease the goal count to best fit the strength of the opponent. Teams with an average of below 20 end up with a score of 0. Using this methodology, Messi scored a total of 166.11 adjusted-value goals, 3.86 goals per club. Ronaldo scored 171.14 adjusted-value goals, 2.06 goals per club. While Ronaldo has scored more goals than Messi, he has faced more opponents, which decreases his goals per club value.

Lionel Messi puts on masterclass for Barcelona in 3-0 win over Bayern Munich  - New York Daily News
Messi seems excited.

The second category of goals was Champions League goals, determined by the expression 0.125√(64-APPS )G, with the variables keeping the same meaning. The expression is square rooted since point values are addressed using a 64 to 1 scale, as mentioned in the intro. However, it is multiplied by ⅛ to accommodate the values so they don’t exceed 1 per club since the values graphed have a y-intercept at (0,8), which is impossible since a single goal can’t be worth more than 1 due to no club having a perfect record to have an exact 1:1 goal value. In this experimental value, the closer the APPS is to 1, the better the club is in the Champions League. No club can have a record of 64 or above, so no APPS values are assigned a 0. Messi scored 97.266 adjusted-value goals, 2.49 goals per club. Ronaldo scored 103.1 adjusted-value goals, 2.79 goals per club. Ronaldo takes the cake in both categories, meaning he has played and scored in more games against better clubs than Messi.

The last category is international goals, determined by the expression ((210-NR)G)/210. NR stands for international rankings And 210-NR serves its purpose as the determining value by taking into account a given team’s standing in global play. Messi scored 61.52 valuable goals, 2.12 goals per team. Ronaldo scored 74.28 goals, 1.65 goals per team. Ronaldo has scored more goals than Messi but took more games to do so.

The final totals from the 3 categories are as follows: Messi has scored 324.90 adjusted-value goals, 108.30 per category. Ronaldo has scored 348.52 adjusted-value goals, 116.17per category. Ronaldo is better in terms of goals scored, but Messi has played for three fewer years. Messi has scored more goals against clubs internationally and domestically, while Ronaldo rules the Champions League. Ronaldo has faced harder opponents on average domestically, an average of 22.91 to 25.8. Ronaldo has faced slightly harder opponents in the Champions League as well, 27.83 to  28.54. Internationally, Messi has faced harder opponents, with a score of 48.34 to 57.4. 

It’s not Messi or Ronaldo, it’s Messi AND Ronaldo.

Messi and Ronaldo are split fairly evenly statistically, even though one may seem better than the other, the differences are marginal. We have to appreciate what I have already known: that Messi AND Ronaldo are the best, and not one or the other.