Who is the GOAT of soccer? Messi, Cr7, Pele, Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Ronaldo Nazário, Ronaldinho

Who is the GOAT of soccer? Messi, Cr7, Pele, Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Ronaldo Nazário, Ronaldinho

Ciku Njuguna
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:21 PM

Throughout soccer history, numerous players have reached near-mythical status due to their talent and success. Explore the impressive professional achievements of the GOATs of soccer right here.

Why Pelé is so popular?
Pele celebrates Brazil's victory after winning the 1970 World Cup against Italy at Estadio Azteca in July 1970 at Città del Messico, Mexico. Photo by Alessandro Sabattini.
Source: Getty Images

Messi's recent achievements at the 2022 Qatar World Cup make settling the age-old debate over the greatest football player in the world even more complex. This article will bring to light the genius, inspiration, and beauty of the game shown by the 'soccer GOAT'.

What is the meaning of 'soccer GOAT'?

The GOAT is one of the most popular acronyms reserved for individuals with complete mastery of their fields of expertise. The acronym for the Greatest Of All Time has been used to refer to athletes with exceptional talents, such as the legendary street basketballer Earl Manigault, boxer Mohammad Ali, and NBA basketball player Michael Jordan, since the early 1900s.

More recently, the acronym has been used to refer to the ultimate athletic heavyweights such as Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Eliud Kipchoge, Usain Bolt, and Rafael Nadal. Scroll down to discover who the greatest football player of all time is.

Ronaldo vs Ronaldinho goals
Cristiano (left) celebrates during a November 2022 World Cup match. Ronaldinho (right) celebrates Barca's third goal at the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup match. Photo by Visionhaus and Etsuo Hara.
Source: Getty Images

Who is the GOAT of soccer in 2023?

Both Messi and Christiano Ronaldo have shared the position of the world's greatest football player of all time. However, Messi, who was regarded as a god of the field by Thierry Henry, may have taken the cake after leading Argentina to world domination at the 2022 Qatar World Cup tournament.

An analysis of the players' statistics reveals that Ronaldo was labelled the undisputed GOAT of soccer with the most overall goals, Champions League goals, club goals and assists, and international caps and goals. However, the 2011 TIME’s 100 Most Influential Person in the World, Lionel Messi, recently came on top with a higher number of titles, World Cup goals, appearances and goal-per-game rate in the Champions League and World Cup.

Who is the GOAT in football now?

Is Ronaldo the GOAT of football? In 35 matches played against each other, Transfermarkt recorded that the two nearly scored the same number of goals, with Messi topping the average number of goals with one goal. He also recorded higher wins and more assists compared to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Who has more trophies, Messi or Ronaldo?
Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring Argentina's first goal during the Qatar FIFA World Cup against Croatia at Lusail Stadium in December 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. Photo by Richard Heathcote.
Source: Getty Images

In an interview with LaSexta, Messi reportedly acknowledged his respect and admiration for Cr7, saying,

“There are many admirable athletes. Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, and LeBron James, in all sports, there is someone who stands out. Cristiano stands out in football.”

Although Cristiano Ronaldo has maintained that he is the better player, the two share a cordial and respectful relationship. When Ronaldo spoke about Messi in an interview with Piers Morgan, he revealed that the Argentinian footballer was the best player he had ever seen, excluding himself and Zidane.

Who is the GOAT of soccer, Messi or Ronaldo?

We have used recent publications by Transfermarkt and Goal to summarise the famous players' career stats, including trophies and titles:

Cristiano Ronaldo

Lionel Messi

Club goals (2002 - 2022)



Club assists (2002 - 2022)



Champions League goals



Champions League goals per game



La Liga goals



La Liga goals per game



International goals



International goals per game



With almost similar stats, the two record slightly different World Cup stats. Throughout his career, Ronaldo appeared in 22 World Cup tournaments, where he scored 8 goals, while Messi appeared in four more tournaments, where he scored 13 goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Lionel Messi

The Best FIFA Men's Player (2)

The Best FIFA Men's Player (2)

Ballon d'Or (5)

Ballon d'Or (7)

UEFA Best Player in Europe (4)

UEFA Best Player in Europe (3)

TM-Player of the Season (2)

TM-Player of the Season (4)

Champions League Winner (5)

Champions League Winner (4)

FIFA Club World Cup Winner (4)

FIFA Club World Cup Winner (3)

Spanish Champion (2)

Spanish Champion (10)

UEFA Super Cup Winner (3)

UEFA Super Cup Winner (3)

Spanish Cup Winner (2)

Spanish Cup Winner (7)

Spanish Super Cup Winner (2)

Spanish Super Cup Winner (8)

Footballer of the Year (10)

Top Goalscorer (22)

FIFA Puskas Award (1)

Player of the Year (10)

Top Goalscorer (19)

World Cup (1)

Player of the Year (6)

Copa America Winner (1)

European Champion (1)

French Champion (1)

Italian Champion (2)

Under-20 World Cup Champion (1)

UEFA Champions League winner (1)

CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions Winner (1)

Italian Cup Winner (1)

French Super Cup Winner (1)

Italian Super Cup Winner (2)

Olympic gold medal (1)

Portuguese Super Cup Winner (1)


English Super Cup Winner (2)


English League Cup Winner (2)


English FA Cup Winner (1)


English Champion (1)


81 trophies and titles

90 trophies and titles

Who is the GOAT in soccer history?

Pele, Maradona and Cruyff played unique roles in improving soccer globally. Here is a summary of the professional achievements of the real GOATs of football history, considering their contributions to soccer's growth and development.

Did Maradona play with Cruyff?
Cruyff poses with the 2014 Laureus World Sports Award in Malaysia. Maradona (right) poses with the 2017 World Cup trophy in Switzerland. Photo by Mike Hewitt and Alexander Hassenstein - FIFA.
Source: Getty Images

3. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona is a GOAT of soccer credited with scoring the best Goal of the Century at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, leading Argentina to victory. Some of Diego Maradona's accomplishments include the 2020 Ballon d'Or Dream Team award, the 1986 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball and the 1987 Milliyet Sports Award for World Athlete of the Year.

2. Johan Cruyff

Is Johan Cruyff the GOAT? The Dutch football legend revolutionized the game by adopting and practising Rinus Michel's Total Football philosophy. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner played for Barcelona and later managed the club, pushing it to its international success. The IFFHS European Player of the Century, who lost the top spot for the 1999 FIFA Player of the Century award to Pele, is also credited for the role of Ajax and La Masia academies in the growth of young football talent today.

1. Pele

Regarded as the 'GOAT' in just about all publications, Pele is celebrated as a global icon and revered by millions of fans for his role in football development. Pele is credited with the globalization of football and, most importantly, for leading the recognition of racially diverse players in the sport.

Why Pelé is greater than Messi?
Brazilian footballer Pele was playing for Brazil in 1958. Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive photos.
Source: Getty Images

The Brazilian national treasure fondly referred to as 'O Rei,' scored over 1000 goals in his career, with 12 in the World Cup. Pele, who undoubtedly takes the position of the greatest sports legend of all time, received the FIFA Player of the Century award in 1999.

To answer the question of whether Pele is the GOAT of soccer, one would measure his success and contribution to today's soccer compared to Cruyff and Maradona. A recent report by AndScape that eulogized the mythical legend recognized the player's influence on the positive representation of black Brazilians and black footballers in general.

Ronaldo Nazário or Ronaldinho, who is the GOAT of soccer?

Who is the best soccer player, Ronaldo or Ronaldinho? In an interview with ESPN Brazil, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, AC Milan's striker, expressed his choice of the best player of the two. He said,

"I would choose Ronaldo Nazário. He always left you with your eyes wide open. He was a real phenomenon, and no one can repeat what he did. He is unique."
Is Ronaldo Nazario the best footballer ever?
Ronaldo celebrates with the trophy at the end of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup Final match between Barcelona and PSG played at Feijenoord Stadion in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in May 1970.
Source: Getty Images

Throughout their careers, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho drove the Seleção Canarinho to the height of glory. In addition, the duo and Rivaldo led Brazil to victory at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Individually, Ronaldo Nazário dominated the 1996 Olympics scoring five goals. On the other hand, Ronaldinho won several major trophies, including a World Cup trophy, a Ballon d'Or, a Confederations Cup title, Golden Ball and the Golden Boot awards.

Continually, the greatest soccer players make enormous personal and professional sacrifices to offer fans exemplary performances. As such, countries, clubs, fans, and critics celebrate their preferred GOAT of soccer as the greatest athletes of all time.

READ ALSO: Ranking the 20 greatest Premier League players of all time

Sportsbrief recently published a comprehensive report rating the most talented soccer players in the Premier League. From legendary players such as Alan Shearer, Dennis Bergkamp, and Ryan Giggs to players with mythical status such as Sergio Agüero, Rooney, Lampard, Harry Kane, Vardy and De Bruyne.

Click on the link above to discover more about the greatest Premier League football players of all time who continue to create a rich legacy in the sports world.

Ciku Njuguna photo
Ciku Njuguna
Ciku Njuguna is a journalist with 3 year’s experience in content creation based in Kenya. She currently covers sports personnel as well as team biographies.