The first Guinness Book of Records in 1955 was made to settle pub arguments, and there’s no bigger pub argument than this…
Over the past 15 years, this perennial debate has resulted in many choice words exchanged, punches thrown and friendships destroyed.
Messi’s creativity, agility and natural talent is often compared to Ronaldo’s efficiency, athleticism and work ethic, however, there’s only one metric that truly matters - who has the most Guinness World Records titles?
Let’s begin by comparing each player’s club career, starting with their domestic league achievements.
Both spent their prime years playing for the top two teams in Spain’s La Liga: Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Messi came through Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and made his senior debut in 2004, aged 17, whereas Ronaldo transferred to Real Madrid from Manchester United (for a then-record fee of £80 million) in 2009, aged 24. Ronaldo moved on to Italian-club Juventus in 2018, whilst Messi stayed at Barcelona until 2021, when he moved to France’s PSG.
As such, it makes sense that Messi holds nearly every single La Liga record, having made 520 total appearances (which is a record in itself, for the most appearances in La Liga by a foreign player) compared to Ronaldo’s 292.
Here’s Messi’s haul:
- Most goals scored in a La Liga career – 474. Ronaldo is in second place, with 311.
- Most goals scored in a single La Liga season – 50, in the 2011/12 season. Ronaldo’s highest league tally was 48 goals in 2014/15.
- Most assists in a single La Liga season – 21, during 2019/20.
- Most assists in a La Liga career – 193, over double Ronaldo’s total of 88.
- Most hat-tricks in a La Liga career – 36. Messi surpassed Ronaldo’s record of 34 in 2019.
- Most consecutive games scored in La Liga by an individual - 21, in the 2012/13 season.
- Most consecutive La Liga seasons to score 20 goals – 13
- Most wins of the La Liga top scorer award (Pichichi Trophy) – 8
- Most wins of the European Golden Shoe award - 6
As a couple of the above records have hinted at, Messi had a phenomenal 2012. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, there’s no denying that the record he set that year - most football goals scored in a calendar year (91) - is one of the most impressive sporting achievements of all time.
For a variety of reasons, many people believed that the world was going to end in 2012. It didn’t, but Messi sure did play as if it would, smashing Gerhard Müller's then 40-year-old record of 85 goals.
In any given game, Messi was statistically more likely to score multiple goals than no goals at all. Zinedine Zidane once said that having Cristiano Ronaldo on the team practically meant they started every game 1-0 up. Well, in 2012, having Messi on your team was like starting every game 2-0 up.
By comparison, Ronaldo’s most prolific calendar year was 2013, where he scored 69 goals.
Ronaldo does hold one La Liga record over his rival though: the most successful penalties taken by a player in La Liga. He converted a total of 61 spot kicks; just one more than Messi managed.
Ronaldo used to jointly hold the record of most goals by a player in an English Premier League season (38 games), bagging 31 for Manchester United in the 2007/08 season, but this was broken by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (Egypt) in 2017/18, and now belongs to Erling Haaland (Norway).
Upon his return to United in 2021, Ronaldo set a record for the longest gap between English Premier League appearances (12 years 118 days), scoring twice on his second debut for the club.
Messi is currently in the lead with 11 records so far compared to two for Ronaldo. However, in the UEFA Champions League (formerly known as the European Cup), the tables begin to turn.
Ronaldo helped Real Madrid win their much-awaited 10th title in 2014, before winning three more in a row from 2016-18. Along the way, he set his fair share of records.
Perhaps the biggest one of all is the record of most Champions League goals. Ronaldo has scored 140 times in the competition, compared to Messi’s 129.
Ronaldo also holds the records for the most Champions League assists (42) and most successful penalties taken by a player in the Champions League (19). Messi requires two more assists and one more penalty to equal both records.
The pair are the only players ever to score over 100 times, with Ronaldo being the world’s first player to score 100 goals in Champions League tournaments.
Ronaldo also has the most Champions League appearances (183) and the most Champions League match victories by an individual (116). Not only has he won more games than every other player, but he’s also won more than most clubs, including the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal.
Here are the rest of Cristiano’s continental accomplishments:
- Most goals in a Champions League season by an individual – 17, during the 2013/14 season, breaking Messi’s 2011/12 record of 14.
- Most consecutive Champions League matches scored in – 11
- Most Champions League goals scored in a calendar year – 19, in 2017.
- Most hat-tricks in a Champions League season – 3, during 2015/16, breaking Messi’s record of 2.
Ronaldo has won five Champions League trophies compared to Messi’s four, however, Paco Gento (Spain; Real Madrid) is the overall record holder, having won the European Cup six times between 1956-66.
Winning the Champions League qualifies a team for the FIFA Club World Cup, a short tournament which pits each continent’s champions against each other.
Ronaldo has the most goals in the FIFA Club World Cup by an individual (7) and the most goals scored in a FIFA Club World Cup game by an individual (3, tied with Luis Suárez and Gareth Bale).
Although Ronaldo dominates the Champions League records, Messi is no slouch in Europe either. Here are his records:
- Most goals scored in a Champions League match by a player – 5, in a 7-1 win against Bayer 04 Leverkusen on 7 March 2012.
- Most different clubs scored against in the Champions League - 40
- Youngest player to score 50 goals in the Champions League – 24 years 283 days
- Most consecutive Champions League football seasons scored in – 18
Ronaldo and Messi both share the record of most hat-tricks scored during a Champions league career by an individual, with 8 apiece.
Ronaldo has clawed his way back, but he’s still trailing Messi by one record so far (15 vs 16). Let’s see if we can separate them by looking at how they’ve performed for their country teams.
We’ll begin - as most fervent fanboys do – by comparing each player’s goalscoring records.
Ronaldo has scored 123 goals in 200 games for Portugal; a record for the most goals scored in international football matches by an individual. Messi has scored 103 in 175 games for Argentina, coming in third on the all-time goals list, 11 behind Ali Daei (Iran).
Ronaldo also has the most international football caps by an individual (200).
Messi and Ronaldo have both played in five World Cups, sharing the record for the most appearances in FIFA World Cup tournaments by a player (male), however, Messi failed to score in 2010’s tournament, handing Ronaldo the record for the most FIFA World Cup tournaments scored in by a player (5). On the other hand, Messi holds the record for the most FIFA World Cup tournaments assisted in by a player (5).
Although both players have appeared in five World Cups, Messi has played more matches. In fact, Messi has records for the most FIFA World Cup matches played in by a player (26) and most FIFA World Cup appearances as captain (19).
At the 2022 Qatar World Cup, both players registered a 'first' in the record books: Ronaldo became the first player to score in five different World Cups (male) and Messi became the first player to assist in five different World Cups (male).
Messi also pulled ahead of Ronaldo for the most Man of the Match awards won at the World Cup (11), after adding five to his collection at the tournament on his way to lifting the trophy.
Ronaldo remains the oldest player to score a hat-trick in the FIFA World Cup, having carried his team to a 3-3 draw against Spain during their 2018 group-stage matchup.
Beyond the World Cup, Ronaldo has set several records in the UEFA European Championships:
- Most UEFA European Championships goals by a player - 14
- Most goals scored in the UEFA European Championships including qualifying matches - 45
- Most appearances in the UEFA European Championships by a player – 25
- Most UEFA European Championship tournaments scored in by a player - 5
Of course, as a South American, Messi cannot compete in the Euros, however, he equally holds the record of most appearances in the Copa America by a player (34, tied with Chile’s Sergio Livingstone).
Messi also set a record in 2016 for the most goals scored by a substitute in a Copa America match, bagging a hat-trick against Panama after coming on in the 61st minute.
Ronaldo has 25 records so far and has finally pulled ahead of Messi’s 24. Will he be able to hold onto the lead?
There are only two records in this section, but they’re big ones:
- Most wins of the Ballon d'Or
- Most Best FIFA Men's Player awards
Messi lays claim to both records, having won the Ballon d’Or seven times and the Best FIFA Men's Player award (formerly the FIFA World Player of the Year) six times. Ronaldo has won each award five times.
The pair have monopolized these awards for well over a decade. From 2008-2021, the only other footballer to have won a Ballon d’Or has been Luka Modrić (Croatia) in 2018.
This unbelievable stat is testament to both Messi and Ronaldo’s elite mental and physical conditioning, which has enabled them to remain at the top for so long.
So, with the score now 26-25 in Messi's favour, it’s all to play for as we enter the social media round.
Social media is a hotbed for Messi vs Ronaldo arguments, so it’s only natural we recognize each player’s online achievements as well as their offline ones.
Here are all of Ronaldo’s:
- Most followers on Facebook & most followers on Facebook for an athlete – 164 million
- Most followers on Instagram & most followers on Instagram for an athlete – 596 million
- First person with 500 million followers on Instagram
- Most followers on Twitter for an athlete - 108.9 million
- Most viewed Wikipedia page for an athlete - 151 million
As you can see, he’s not just more popular than Messi and every other athlete, but on some platforms, Ronaldo is literally the most popular human in the world.
Messi does have one social media record though: after winning the 2022 World Cup, he achieved the most liked post on Instagram in history.
As two of the best footballers in history, it’ll come as no surprise that Messi and Ronaldo are also two of the richest.
Ronaldo has topped Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes three times: in 2016, 2017, and 2023. This has earned him three Guinness World Records titles for the highest annual earnings for an athlete (one for each year).
Messi has achieved this twice; in 2019 and 2022.
Ronaldo has stormed ahead with 35 records, leaving Messi stalled on 29. But as these players have shown us time and time again, the game’s not over until the final whistle blows.
The relentless rivals have played a total of 36 official matches against each other, resulting in 16 Messi wins, 11 Ronaldo wins, and 9 draws.
However, these 36 matches pale in comparison to the millions of times they’ve been pit against each other in video games.
Before each year’s edition of EA Sports FIFA is released – and indeed after – there is always hot debate about what each player’s rating should be. Just as in real life, each year has seen Messi and Ronaldo vying for the top spot in the game.
Here’s the year-by-year breakdown:
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 08 – Ronaldo (91) tied with Ronaldinho (Brazil; Barcelona) and Gianluigi Buffon (Italy; Juventus)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 09 – Ronaldo (91) tied with Iker Casillas (Spain; Real Madrid)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 10 – Messi (90) tied with Iker Casillas
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 11 – Messi (90)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 12 – Messi (94)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 13 – Messi (94)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 14 – Messi (94)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 15 – Messi (93)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 16 – Messi (94)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 17 – Ronaldo (94)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 18 – Ronaldo (94)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 19 – Ronaldo & Messi (94)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 20 – Messi (94)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 21 – Messi (93)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 22 – Messi (93)
- Highest-rated player in FIFA 23 – Messi (91) tied with four other players
Messi also has the most appearances on a videogame cover by a soccer player, with a total of 12 cover appearances across the FIFA and eFootball (formerly Pro Evolution Soccer) franchises.
That’s it, we’re finally out of records. At the end of it all, Ronaldo has 40 Guinness World Records titles… and Messi has 41, meaning we have a winner!
However, the balance could yet tip in Ronaldo's favour as his everlasting hunt for records continues in Saudi Arabia.
There’s also no shortage of talented young prospects such as Erling Haaland, Kylian Mbappé and Jesse Lingard, who will be eager to snatch some of these records in the future.