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John Aldridge: The Messi v Ronaldo debate may be about to take a decisive twist

If Messi lifts the World Cup next Sunday, the debate over who is the greatest of them all will have a new dimension.

LUSAIL CITY, QATAR - DECEMBER 09: Lionel Messi of Argentina (10) celebrates with team mates after their win in the penalty shootout during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 quarter final match between Netherlands and Argentina at Lusail Stadium on December 09, 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)© Getty Images

John AldridgeSunday World

LIONEL Messi does not need to win the World Cup to confirm his status as one of the all-time greats – but victory in Qatar would be the nuts on top of his delicious ice cream.

Ronnie Whelan told me a story of a day when Liverpool were playing Southampton and Alan Ball was giving him a bit of lip during the game.

Forgetting who he was talking to for a second, Ronnie turned around and said to Ball: “What have you won, mate?”

England 1966 World Cup winner Ball had the ultimate response as he said: “Just the biggest medal of them all, son and you’ll never get that!”

Ronnie realised he had asked that question to the wrong opponent because whatever you win in your career, the World Cup is the medal any player would want.

That’s why it would mean so much to Messi if he can get Argentina over the line in next Sunday’s final.

There is no doubt that Messi is already in the discussion alongside Pele and Diego Maradona over who should be hailed as the greatest player of all time.

I’m biased as I grew up watching images of Pele on TV – and he was the mystical genius who was a gift from another planet, as he won three World Cups.

Then we were all blown away by Maradona’s genius as he carried Argentina to the big one in Mexico, annoying England along the way with his Hand of God goal in 1986.

Now Messi is two games away from adding the final piece of his legacy, as Argentina prepare for a World Cup semi-final against Croatia on Tuesday.

Whatever happens over the next few days in Qatar, Messi is assured of a place in football history as an all-time great.

And the events of the last few weeks may well play a part in the discussion over who is the greatest between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The way Ronaldo behaved in his final few weeks at Manchester United was disgraceful.

Maybe his agent told him to go and do that Piers Morgan interview, because he knew we would get sacked and he could secure this ridiculous move to play in Saudi Arabia.

Now he has fallen out with the Portugal manager and was left in tears as Portugal’s surprise World Cup exit against Morocco yesterday.

All of these managers and clubs are finding out that Ronaldo’s ego is now bigger than what is left of his incredible talents – and it is a sad way for a great career to end.

I also have a little issue with Messi, as it was a big shock to me when he left Barcelona to sign for Paris Saint-Germain.

Money is not an issue for players like Messi and Ronaldo, yet both of them seem to be chasing the cash despite having hundreds of millions in the bank already.

Barcelona were in huge financial trouble in the summer of 2021, and couldn’t afford to pay Messi the contract they had agreed.

Yet if I was in Messi’s position and Liverpool couldn’t afford to pay me what had been agreed, I’d have agreed to take a pay cut to stay with them.

What joy is Messi getting playing for a plastic club like PSG and raking in a load of cash for winning a Mickey Mouse one-team league in France?

It makes no sense to me, but you look at the two greats of the modern game and it is clear that Messi will be remembered as being the better character.

Despite his status as a global superstar, Messi seems to be lower maintenance than Ronaldo – and that will be part of reason why his legacy will be more golden.

Messi has not been at his brilliant best in Qatar, but he has still served up some wonderful moments of magic, and the pass that set up Argentina’s goal against the Netherland’s on Friday was a work of art.

The Argentine has been doing that for the best part of two decades now and aside from a famous night at Anfield in 2019 when Liverpool blew his Barcelona side away in the Champions League semi-final, Messi has always delivered.

Now he will want to get his hands on the trophy Pele and Maradona won – and if Messi lifts the World Cup next Sunday, the debate over who is the greatest of them all will have a new dimension.

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