By 90Min
January 29, 2018

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are quite possibly the two greatest footballers that ever lived. That much has already been covered. Fairly extensively, it seems.

However, what often gets overlooked among the accolades, the skills and the many, many goals is the fact both men are practically indestructible. 

Their unfailing consistency and indefatigability is astounding when you look at the raw numbers. So much so in fact, that you could reasonably make the claim that either is a contender for the title of greatest living athlete.

Case in point: since the 2008/09 season (the season during which began the era of the two players' dominance in the Ballon d'Or), Messi has never failed to play in at least 31 out of 38 games in La Liga's calendar, and in those nine full seasons prior to 2017/18, the Argentine has played at least 50 games in all club competitions seven times.

Meanwhile, never one to be outdone by his (at least public) adversary, Ronaldo has only managed fewer than 30 league appearances four times in his senior career - which began back in 2002. In addition, just like Messi, he has also made 50 or more outings in all competitions seven times in his career.

Both men are currently on course for another season of 50 plus appearances in all competitions in 2017/18.

In case you're wondering just how rare it is make 50 or more competitive appearances in a season, legendary club stalwarts and long-serving captains John Terry and Steven Gerrard managed five times each, while Ryan Giggs and Carles Puyol both have hat-tricks but no more. The undroppable Raul completed six 50-and-above game seasons in his illustrious career, while Javier Zanetti sets the standard with nine during his 20 years with Inter.

To provide some comparison in other areas of attendance, see below for a few relevant statistics using some of the finest attacking players of the last decade. The players included have all been key men for their clubs and, while few can compare to the trophy cabinets at Casas Messi and Ronaldo, they are all perennial regulars in the business ends of domestic and continental competition.

Player Club appearances total since 08/09* No of 50-appearance seasons 
(all comps)
Avg no of league games missed per season
(since 08/09)*
Total league minutes
(since 08/09)*
Lionel Messi 504 7 4.2 25,545
Cristiano Ronaldo 471 7 4.9 25,560
Neymar 410 † 2 10 17,755
Edinson Cavani 409 3 4.2 24,675
Gonzalo Higuain 408 3 6.2 20,944
Andres Iniesta 404 2 9.5 18,345
Zlatan Ibrahimovic
404 1 7.4 23,249
Luis Suarez 395 2 6.4 24,607
Sergio Aguero 395 1 6.8 21,211
Franck Ribery 307 2 11.8 14,138

* Until start of 2017/18 campaign

† Includes Campeonato Paulista


Cumulatively, in the last decade Messi has missed just 34 games through injury with the longest being a 10-game spell on the sidelines with a torn muscle at the end of 2013.

Since a metatarsal fracture in 2007, the Argentine forward has never missed more than two months of competitive football from an injury - particularly impressive when you consider he is often in top ten of the most fouled in La Liga.

Ronaldo (as you may expect at this point) has a similarly impressive medical history, and has been absent through injury for only 46 games in the last ten years.

Alex Caparros/GettyImages

His longest injury in that period was a fractured kneecap towards the end of his Man Utd stay, which kept him off the field and away from the goal for 11 games. 

Despite occasional thigh problems in recent campaigns, which have seen him skip a game here and there, he has been unfit to play for longer than a month just three times since that knee fracture in 2009/09.

Ibrahimovic - the self-proclaimed lion of football - has missed 67 games through fitness issues for his clubs in the same time period. Iniesta and Sergio Ramos have both missed around 40 games since 2014/15 alone.

Just showing up is half the battle they say, and Ronaldo and Messi have done it year after year without fail. While so many of football history's greatest stars' time at the top has been fleeting, their bodies without the physical endurance to match their talent, the two dominant attacking forces of the last decade have set themselves apart with an unparalleled stamina and sheer relentlessness that has quite possibly never been seen before.


*Statistics sourced from Transfermarkt

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