Messi or Ronaldo? Sunil Chhetri settles the debate

Chhetri feels fans should consider themselves lucky to be able to see both of them play in the same era.

Two extraordinary players: Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Lionel Messi.   -  AFP

Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo is an eternal debate. From former players, to pundits, and anyone who’s watched them play – everyone has an opinion.

India’s most-capped footballer, Sunil Chhetri, is a lot closer to these two aforementioned gentlemen and his opinion is bound to have the most relevance. After all, he’s sandwiched between the two on the list for the highest international goals among active footballers. Ronaldo is perched on top of the table with 99 strikes, while Chhetri follows second with 72 and Messi trails him by two.

Chhetri, who has been quarantined at his Bengaluru residence owing to the coronavirus pandemic, has put the debate to bed.

“In fact, even before this interview I was stretching and was watching a Messi video. And that really lifts me up. If anyone in the world is sad, just put on Messi video and he’ll be happy,” he tells Sportstar.

“I love to follow Cristiano Ronaldo, too. For me, it’s a very good example of how much hard work he puts in. When it’s learning, I follow Ronaldo’s stuff more but I just enjoy watching Messi. The kind of goals he scores, his dribbles, his nutmegs, his understanding of the game, his touches are unbelievable,” he continues.

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Like most would agree, Chhetri, too, feels Messi is a phenomenon. “I don’t think you can teach anyone that, you know - you can’t teach someone to dribble five players in your own box. The coach will probably never play you again (if you did that)! But then you watch Messi dribbling five players his box… he’s just different,” he says.

When asked who he thinks is a more complete footballer, Chhetri has a different take. “If you say that, then I will say Ronaldo. I mean it’s close. The moment you say complete, it’s about height, heading ability, shooting with both feet, coming back to defend corners also – so in that aspect, yes, Ronaldo.”

Sunil Chhetri has scored 72 international goals for India so far. Lionel Messi trails him by two. - RAJEEV BHATT


But he’s quick to add: “But generally as a player, there’s no comparison between Messi and anyone else. He’s just a level up – he’s completely different. If you ask me who affects the game more, it has to be Messi. The build-up play, the passes, the assists, and understanding. The value of him in Barcelona or Argentina gives him a little edge over Ronaldo. I think he’s the best player.”

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While it’s a common sight to see Messi fan groups shower the Ronaldo faction with hate on social media, Chhetri feels fans should consider themselves lucky to be able to see both of them play in the same era. “I see a lot of people who like Messi, and in return hate Ronaldo and vice versa. But you cannot hate either of them. You can be a fan of one. Suppose Ronaldo is playing against your team, you don’t want him to do well and that’s normal. But hating one of them doesn’t make sense because they’re pure geniuses. They give so much joy!

“In general, when I see people, they shower so much hate on the other one – I don’t think it’s the right thing. We’re fortunate to be in an era when they’re both playing. There are players like Neymar, (Sergio) Aguero, (Robert) Lewandowski – so many good players, so many top players, but these two are still above them. Just enjoy it – both of them are tremendously talented.”

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