Sure, we all know that Lionel Messi is one of the greatest soccer players of all time, but just how great is always up for debate. On Monday, the Centre of Historical and Statistical Investigations for Spanish Football (CIHEFE) threw down its own evaluation of Messi’s greatness; bluntly, it considers him the greatest player to ever suit up in the Spanish first division.
In total, 9,280 players have played in top flight Spanish soccer since its humble beginnings in 1929. The list put out by CIHEFE factored in a few categories when ranking players: minutes played per season, how many goals the individual scored and how those goals were scored (whether by penalty or free kick), and how often they were red carded.
After calculating the points for the best of the best, researcher Jose Antonio Ortega found that Messi had the highest point total (545 points) of anyone that has played in the Spanish league over the last 86 years. Second on the list is former Real Madrid forward Raúl Gonzaléz, while Barcelona’s César Rodriguez came in third.
According to Ortega, “all the evaluation criteria are marked with a simple and homogeneous scoring system that manages to evaluate the player in numbers with the same analysis in all seasons.” The researcher continued, “Technique, ambition, talent and ability have made him (Messi) one of the most valuable players of all time.”
Messi has been a scoring juggernaut since first arriving in La Liga: he has netted 349 goals, putting him at the top of the league’s scoring list by a wide margin. His best season saw him pour in 50 goals in the 2011-2012 campaign, including eight hat-tricks, while the following year saw the Argentine legend score in 21 straight matches.
You may be wondering where Cristiano Ronaldo sits on this list. Real Madrid’s talisman is the next active player on the list, coming in at a surprisingly low 17th place. Ronaldo is the second all-time leading goal scorer in La Liga history with 285 goals, but only finished with 415 points in Ortega’s report. Of course, unlike Messi, Ronaldo spent a solid chunk of his early prime in a different league, with the Premier League’s Manchester United, so his relatively low ranking is more easily explained when compared to Messi’s decade-long domination at Barcelona.