Defining and Selecting the GOAT

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What is a GOAT? Literally, it’s a farm animal, but in everyday sports parlance, the term means something entirely different; it’s an acronym for “Greatest Of All Time,” a phrase that labels the best athlete ever to play a particular sport. Since “greatest” is subjective, there is an endless debate among sports fans and commentators over how to define it, and it is virtually impossible to reach a consensus on the GOAT of a sport. Does one consider the number of championships won by the athlete, individual statistics, awards and accolades, how long a player competed, or that athlete’s impact on the sport? Should each of those criteria count equally or are some more important than others?


In soccer, there is considerable debate over who is the greatest player of all time. Many names are proposed during these discussions, but the two players mentioned most often are Cristiano Ronaldo (who is from Portugal and plays for Manchester United) and Lionel Messi (who is from Argentina and plays for Paris Saint-Germain). These two “rivals” hold a multitude of records that may never be broken and each has collected numerous highly regarded awards throughout their careers. Since they played in the same era (both are in their mid-30s), comparing them is fairly easy. If you value individual statistics and victories, Messi is probably your choice for GOAT: he is the more productive and consistent player, scoring more goals per game (0.79 compared to Ronaldo’s 0.72) and dishing out more assists per game (0.32 compared to Ronaldo’s 0.23). Messi is also a seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or (the “golden ball” trophy awarded each year to the best player), whereas Ronaldo has only won it five times. Messi also has 10 league titles as compared to Ronaldo’s seven. Statistically, Messi is the greatest soccer player ever. On the other hand, if you look past the numbers and consider some intangibles when deciding the GOAT, Ronaldo is your pick. Ronaldo embodies soccer and has been the face of the sport for two decades. He inspires younger generations to play and has grown the global popularity and influence of soccer. Without Ronaldo, soccer would not be where it is today (with 3.5 billion fans, soccer is the most watched sport in the world). In my opinion, Ronaldo’s impact on the sport sets him apart from the rest and outweighs Messi’s superior numbers.