Sir Alex Ferguson theory on Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi seen in new light in 2023
Cristiano Ronaldo burst onto the scene under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, with his old manager making his feelings clear about the Lionel Messi debate
Sir Alex Ferguson had the best view of all as Cristiano Ronaldo went from precocious teenager to world’s best under his tutelage.
During his first spell at Manchester United, the Portuguese prodigy won three Premier League titles and a Champions League crown. In 2008, he was also awarded the Ballon d’Or and recognised as the best player on earth for the first time.
He would split from Ferguson in 2009, joining Real Madrid and embarking on a record-breaking spell in the Spanish capital. But his move to LaLiga coincided with the rise of his great rival Lionel Messi. The little magician dominated world football, winning the next four Ballon d’Ors and assuming his place at the top of the game.
And with that, the debate between Ronaldo and Messi was born. The fact they represented each side of the El Clasico made their battle all the more fascinating. One with the relentless drive for success so in tune with Madrid, and Messi’s unselfish genius a perfect fit at Barcelona.
Alex Ferguson felt Messi’s greatness was enhanced by his supporting cast at the Camp Nou and that - despite all of his brilliance - was an archetypal ‘Barcelona player’. He didn’t feel the same one-club status applied to his old protege, having already dazzled in two different countries.
In fact, Fergie felt Ronaldo could inspire ANY team to success: "People say who is the best player in the world? And plenty of people quite rightly say Messi - you can't dispute that opinion," explained Ferguson back in 2015.
"But Ronaldo could play for Millwall, Queens Park Rangers, Doncaster Rovers… anyone, and score a hat-trick in a game. I'm not sure Messi could do it. Ronaldo's got two feet, he's quick, great in the air, he's brave - Messi's brave, of course. I think Messi's a Barcelona player."
That hypothesis looked to be one that would never be tested, with Messi seemingly destined to spend the entirety of his career in Catalonia. And so when the blockbuster news of his departure came about, it was finally time to put that theory under the spotlight.
During his first season at Paris Saint-Germain, there were more than a few knowing glances, as he failed to truly live up to his own ridiculous standards with his new side. He finished that campaign with just 11 goals in all competitions - his lowest tally since 2006.
Meanwhile, after his own transfer, evidence that Ronaldo’s powers were on the wane were surfacing. His return to Manchester United was greeted with fanfare and although the goals came, there were continued question marks over how much he was contributing.
Those debates became more rampant with the arrival of Erik ten Hag and it was quickly determined that he was no longer a starter at Old Trafford. Ostracised at club level, he faced a similarly blunt reality check during Portugal’s World Cup campaign.
Dropped to the bench for the knockout stages, it has become clearer and clearer that he no longer had the Midas touch that Fergie picked out all those years earlier. It was perhaps made even more painful as Messi underlined he had the very quality that the legendary Scot thought he was lacking.
He almost single-handedly guided Argentina to a World Cup triumph, underlining his credentials as the world’s best player more than a decade after his first coronation. Glory in Qatar has merely built on his PSG success, with a more settled Messi now rolling back the years and spearheading their stroll to another Ligue 1 title.
As for Ronaldo, it may not be Doncaster or Millwall, but it is Al-Nassr and while he may still be scoring goals in the Saudi Pro League, his presence has only seen his new side drop from first to second. It’s taken eight years, but in the cold light of 2023, Ferguson’s sly ‘Barca player’ dig at Messi has been emphatically disproved.