Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is on his way to becoming one of football's all-time best players, according to former Netherlands great Johan Cruyff. Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo, however, may not be joining him.
Messi has scored 48 goals in all competitions so far this season, and will come face-to-face with Ronaldo and his Real Madrid team-mates in tonight's Primera Liga clash at the Bernabeu. No Spanish league player has ever scored 50 goals in a season.
"Yes he's on his way," Cruyff said. "He's just played now four years or something like that and the others have played at least 14 years, so he's got 10 more years to go with same quality and, hopefully, same success."
The 23-year-old Messi has scored 95 goals in his last 99 games and helped Barcelona to eight trophies over the past two seasons, which were both capped with world player of the year accolades. Ronaldo, meanwhile, endured a trophyless first year with Madrid in 2010 after six successful seasons at Manchester United. Cruyff, a former Barcelona star, believes Messi is worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Pelé, Diego Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano, he's not as convinced about Ronaldo.
"A little more difficult, I think," Cruyff said about the 2008 world player of the year. "All the people mentioned were players from the street and Ronaldo is more of a physical player, while in the others mentioned are not physical players (but) pure technical players -- pure technique."
Two-time defending champion Barcelona hold an eight-point lead over Madrid in the Spanish league going into tonight' match.
According to reports in Spain, Ronaldo has taken on his personal rivalry against Messi with such newfound focus that he is reportedly being nicknamed "The Anxious One" inside Madrid's dressingroom.
REAL MADRID v BARCELONA, LIVE TONIGHT, SKY SPORTS 1 (KO 9.0pm)