The Greatest of All Time. The GOAT. These words and titles are thrown around pretty flippantly now and typically used in sports arguments.
You have your favorite player, you call them the GOAT, then the arguments start.
But, how often do you actually label someone the greatest of all time and actually mean it?
There aren’t many athletes in my lifetime that I have seen who I’d be able to label as the greatest in their sport.
There are two sports where the argument has ever made sense to me: basketball and soccer (football if you are inclined to call it that).
When it comes to basketball, those who know the sport have been annoyed for probably the last decade with the Michael Jordan versus LeBron James debate.
Both are the best players of their time, but both played in different era , making it difficult to determine who the best actually is.
But, with soccer, for those who don’t know, we have been able to watch two players who are considered the greatest of all time play at the same time.
Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi has been the debate since I started watching the sport in 2010 during the World Cup in South Africa.
I was a 16 year old kid living in New York surrounded by Portuguese and Columbian kids in my area who loved the sport while I hated it.
But, something changed in 2010. I fell in love with it. I remember the first 90 minutes of football (soccer) that I watched.
Since that year, I was embroiled in the debate of Ronaldo versus Messi.
I was much more on the Ronaldo side of the argument in those days.
It was an easy debate to have. Both players played in the same league in Spain and played for rival teams.
Those not watching the sport at the time really missed out. This was the golden age of El Clasico (the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona).
Every year we got at least two games of Ronaldo versus Messi. It was really incredible.
Ronaldo was tall. He was a machine. I mean, it looked like he could run through a brick wall.
Messi was a short little player who looked really weak, but he could dribble through every player on the pitch and slot one into the bottom corner before you could blink.
Both won major games against each other, and both won titles at the expense of
I was fully team Ronaldo. But, one day, I wasn’t.
I was 19 in 2012. It was June, and I went to see Brazil play against Argentina in an international friendly at Metlife Stadium in New Jersey. It was very hot and very humid, but that’s just summer on the east coast.
I remember buying the tickets with my dad and purposefully sitting in the Brazil section so I can support whatever team was playing against Messi, who I hated at the time.
But, then I saw it. I didn’t see it on T.V. like I had before. I didn’t see it in highlights. I saw the real thing, in front of my eyes.
I saw Messi play.
Now, I had seen Ronaldo play live twice before this. He was every bit as good as I thought he was in person.
But, Messi. Messi was not human.
Every good thing you could do in 90 minutes of football (soccer), Messi did it.
He was dribbling past everyone. He had scored twice within three minutes.
The game was tied at 3-3 before time was starting to wind down.
It was the 86th minute when Messi changed my mind on the debate.
He skipped past a player, who at the time was probably one of the best left sided defenders in the world, dribbled towards goal and from about 25 yards out, smashed the ball into the top corner of the goal.
Everyone in the Brazil section was stunned, but nobody was surprised. That was just Messi. That was his game.
Messi went on to do that for the next 10-11 years by taking the game and making it his against everyone, leaving the best defenders in the world scrambling like they had just learned how to walk.
In poetic style, the debate officially ended where the sport started for me.
Now, to me, the debate was already over. Ronaldo had amazing numbers, but Messi was the best player of the overall game for me.
But, this World Cup separated the two, finally.
Neither had won it before. Ronaldo went out in the early knockout rounds, but guess who won? Messi.
Messi didn’t just win it. He was the player of the tournament, one of the best World Cup tournaments of all time.
This man scored in every knockout round. He was the first to ever score in every stage of a World Cup, and he was 35 years old when he did it.
Not many will be able to say they’ve seen him play, but I did.
I saw probably the greatest professional athlete of all time play live.
Unfortunately, for my daughter (and any other kids we have), she will never hear the end of it.
See complete story in the Journal Record.