Although there are other great midfielders/attacking forwards in the game (Juan Riquelme and Kaka spring to mind), there can be no denying that the three players being compared here offer the most exciting prospects for both their domestic teams and soccer in general.
Although Cristiano Ronaldo is causing a lot of heated debate at the moment regarding his potential transfer to Real Madrid, it can’t be denied that he was arguably Manchester United’s star player last season.
However, Cesc Fabregas was just as influential for Arsenal, and although Barcelona failed to live up to their high standards last season, Lionel Messi was the one shining light in an otherwise disappointing campaign.
So who is the best of these three young and extremely talented players?
Although not really classed as out-and-out strikers, each player has contributed a healthy amount of goals for their sides. Each total is from league, cup and European competition games combined:
- Cristiano Ronaldo – 97 from 269 appearances
- Lionel Messi – 42 goals from 110 appearances
- Cesc Fabregas – 26 from 198 appearances
On paper, then, Messi comes out on top, with a goal in almost every other game, compared to Ronaldo’s 1-in-3 average and Fabregas’ low total.
In fairness, the departure of Thierry Henry has opened the door for Fabregas to be more prolific, as was shown last year when he scored 13 goals in 45 appearances, with 24 assists.
So, round one to Messi.
With these players all playing at high-level clubs in their domestic leagues, the opportunity to win silverware is always a realistic one. So how do they compare? The following are winning achievements only and do not count runners-up medals:
- Cristiano Ronaldo – 2 Premier League’s, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup, 1 Champions League, 1 Community Shield
- Lionel Messi – FIFA U-20 World Cup, 2 La Liga’s, 2 Supercopa de Espana, 1 Champion’s League
- Cesc Fabregas – 1 European Championship, 1 FA Cup, 1 Community Shield, 1 Emirates Cup, 1 Amsterdam Tournament
While you can’t take away Fabregas’ excellent achievement of being part of this year’s European champions team, nor Messi’s club and international achievements, the award here goes (just) to Ronaldo.
That could change next year as Barcelona come back strong and Arsenal perhaps finally live up to their potential and see a whole season through.
The sign of any great player can often be measured in how their peers rate them, whether it’s sports journalists, managers, fellow players or fans. All three players rate well in this category (these are individual awards only and not team awards):
- Cristiano Ronaldo – 2 PFA Players’ Player of the Year, 1 PFA Young Player of the Year, 2 PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, 2 Barclays Premier Player of the season, 4 Barclays Player of the Month, 1 Barclays Golden Boot, 1 Barclays Merit, 2 Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, 2 Manchester United’s Players’ Player of the Year, 3 Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year, 3 Manchester United Goal of the Season, 1 Portuguese Sports Personality of the Year, 1 Portuguese Footballer of the Year, 1 Champion’s League Top Scorer, 1 European Golden Shoe, 1 U-21 European Footballer of the Year, 1 European Footballer of the Year, 2 FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year.
- Lionel Messi – 1 FIFA U-20 World Cup Golden Ball, 1 FIFA U-20 World Cup Golden Boot, 1 Bravo, 2 World Soccer Young Player of the Year, 1 Argentinean Player of the Year, 1 FIFPro World Young Player of the Year, 1 EFE Trophy for Best Ibero-American Player in La Liga, 1 Best Foreign Player in La Liga, 1 Copa America Best Young Player.
- Cesc Fabregas - 2 FA Premier League Player of the Month, 1 PFA Young Player of the Year, 1 Bravo, 1 UEFA U-17 European Championship Golden Player, 1 FIFA U-17 Golden Shoe, 1 FIFA U-17 Golden Boot, 2 Arsenal Player of the Season.
Hands down, Ronaldo wins this category, although in fairness to both Messi and Fabregas, he has been playing first team football more than his two rivals.
So, overall, it looks like Cristiano Ronaldo comes top as the best young midfielder between these three hugely talented players. At least on paper, that is—there are mitigating circumstances that could place either Messi or Fabregas above him.
When comparing the three, for example, it could be argued that Fabregas and Messi are both far superior team players than Ronaldo, who is often sat on the pitch complaining about a non-tackle as opposed to tracking back.
Additionally, Cesc Fabregas officially has a less glamorous role for Arsenal, being played more as a holding midfielder, as opposed to the attacking freedom given to both Messi and Ronaldo. He also has less top-class players surrounding him (no offence to Arsenal fans) than Ronaldo does at Manchester United and Messi enjoys at Barcelona.
Whatever way you look at it, there’s no denying that these three players all deserve the praise that comes their way for the way they excite fans of the beautiful game.
Which one will stand out as the greatest of the three, only time will tell—but it promises for an intriguing and enjoyable long-term battle.