“That Messi… he’s mustard, but Ronaldo is better”

05 Sep, 2018

Paul Summerfield

Paul Summerfield

Chief Technology Officer – BIaaS at Northcraft Analytics

My Dad was always convinced that because Christiano Ronaldo had proven himself as a top player in two of the world’s strongest football leagues (English Premier League & Spain’s La Liga) that he had an advantage in the ‘who’s better’ debate over Lionel Messi, who had only ever played in La Liga. I tended to agree with him, having seen Ronaldo score some great goals for Manchester United against my beloved West Ham United on a number of occasions and wished, begrudgingly, that we could sign a player of his ability. However, the highlight stats show a slightly different story, not that my Dad would have ever believed the ‘witchcraft’ of statistics, but over their careers to date Messi has 617 goals for club and country in 765 appearances, with 252 assists whilst Ronaldo has 658 goals for club and country in 915 appearances, with 208 assists. That rounds out to 0.8 goals per game average for Messi and 0.72 goals per game for Ronaldo. Now my Dad would have said ‘yeah, but Messi scored a ton of those goals in La Liga against weaker teams than the Premier League had, whereas Ronaldo scored almost 100 goals against stronger Premier league opponents over 6 seasons’. Now I don’t necessarily buy into the argument about La Liga being that much weaker than the Premier League (not completely anyway), but since Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid in 2009, he has notched up 406 goals in 394 appearances in all club competitions as of the end of the 2016/2017 season, which works out to be 1.03 goals per game compared to Messi’s 1.01 over the same period for Barcelona, so maybe my Dad had a point. Or did he? Football is about more than just the goals, the assists that Messi provides far surpass that of Ronaldo, which goes to the widely held view that Messi is the more rounded team player and less selfish than Ronaldo, although with a strike rate like these two guys have, I can understand why both of them would want to take every opportunity to shoot when they have the ball. I also feel like we have to take into account the style of play these two teams adopt, with Barcelona utilizing a system of intricate passing and Real Madrid adopting fast paced, explosive football, which plays to Messi and Ronaldo’s relative strengths (although it could also be said that the teams were largely built around them), with Messi the consummate dribbler of the ball and an acute eye for goal, and Ronaldo a powerful finisher and striker of the ball. The BBC commentator and former England striker Alan Shearer recently said, “Messi is an artist, Ronaldo is a machine”, but I tend to think that if Messi wasn’t around, Ronaldo would be appreciated more for his artistry, he’s just over shadowed in this regard.

Whichever view you hold on these two, it’s obvious to most discerning fans that there is far more to the game of football than stats and metrics. Whilst statistics are now heavily used in most professional sports to identify strengths and weaknesses in a player and a team, what nutrition should be prescribed, sleep patterns etc., they cannot identify the power a player holds within his/her team when it comes to on/off field leadership and dressing room/locker room presence in support of the team. Some of the greatest players were not necessarily a ‘star’ in their own right, but they brought the best out of their team mates, inspired confidence and made them all better players, it took insightful and sometimes visionary managers to see these traits and help build/invest in them. In my experience, from a technology background, I have seen somewhat of a parallel in the everyday workplace where results are typically measured in tangibles – number of tickets closed per analyst, lines of code developed in a work day, number of incidents per technology area, project deliverables met on time, budget within forecast etc. However, rarely have I seen what I view as solid leadership measured well, and if it is, via employee surveys or performance feedback etc., it has not been considered as a key performance indicator of an individual or a team, it’s just simply lower down the priority scale in terms of overall measurement and determining value to a company, despite C-level rhetoric to the opposite. Of course, there are many facets to leadership: motivational skills; interpersonal skills; understanding their organizational strengths and weaknesses and which individuals/skills are critical to achieving goals; strong vision of the mission and inspiring others; development/coaching of team members etc., all of which need to be applied in varying measures for different situations but are often difficult to quantify. However, there are some excellent employee survey tools out there which are reasonably easy to implement given they’re offered as SaaS solutions, so as long as the right format of questioning is constructed, metricizing leadership is not impossible albeit based on feedback from your employees rather than empirical data. There is a quality control challenge here given the human opinion element so it’s imperative to gather from a large enough data sample to extract decent findings, but it’s a positive way to measure how your leaders are perceived, at least by their direct reports. Firms just have to choose to use the data they can capture and make the conscious decision to recognize some of the most important assets they have, real leaders.

As for Ronaldo and Messi, with the 2018 FIFA World Cup having just finished and France the eventual winners, we saw some awesome displays from many players, Ronaldo and Messi amongst them. Whilst their incredible stats keep growing, and the debate over who is the greater all-round player will continue, we also saw a new crop of potential ‘superstars’ in the making, such as Kylian Mbappe of France, the first teenager to score in a world cup final since Pelé in 1958. Furthermore, we will now be comparing Ronaldo and Messi across two leagues – La Liga and Serie A, as Ronaldo has decided to join the Italian giants, Juventus and try his hand in a third league (fourth if you count his one year in the Portuguese Primeira Liga for Sporting Lisbon)… should make the UEFA Champions League all the more interesting.

Oh by the way, if you hadn’t guessed… ‘mustard’ means ‘hot/great’ to a Londoner 😉