Javier Saviola has hailed Cristiano Ronaldo but believes Lionel Messi is on a level of his own. The 31-year-old Portuguese and 29-year-old Argentinian are among the final three nominees for The Best FIFA Men’s Player 2016 award, along with Antoine Griezmann, and will collide inEl Clásico on Saturday. Saviola was at Barcelona when Messi broke into their first-team, and later played alongside Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
"I heard there was a kid in the Barça youth team and that it was worth going to see him play,” recalled Saviola to Omnisport. “They told us he had an incredible left foot, that he was already different, and that they thought he would be one of the best in history.
"He is better than the rest because he thinks before he gets the ball at his feet. Most players, we can't do that. We can't think before we get the ball. Maybe due to tiredness, maybe due to our ability, but we can't.
"He thinks, he imagines the play before even getting the ball, and then executes it. He's fast, really difficult to stop. He's effective, understands his team-mates, and is really complete. A normal player has two or three of these skills – he has got them all.
"I love how Messi plays football. If I had to choose a favourite player, I would definitely choose him. It’s about taste – I like Messi better, but there is no doubt that Cristiano is a great player.
"He is a machine, physically powerful. His results, his records are there to see. Year after year they both improve their own records. They are making history with amazing seasons clinching trophies such as the Champions League or EUROs, as Ronaldo did this summer with Portugal. They were not favourites and winning it has huge merit. He also won Champions League.
"Ronaldo’s really effective. He is really competitive with himself. If he scores three he wants to hit the fourth, and you can see he gets frustrated if he doesn't. He's really strong mentally.
"Messi is more skilful and he brings more of a spectacle when he comes onto the pitch. When they finish their careers, both will be among the best in history – that is beyond doubt.
"I love how Messi plays, the way he improves season by season – if he can improve at all as there's little space for him to improve! Messi is beyond doubt among of the best in history. We are all looking to everything he does as he is a pure spectacle.
"He is the best, not just as a player but also as a person. I have always been on very good terms with him. He is a very humble person and it is really pleasant to chat with him. The kind of guy you keep a friendship with, very humble. As great as he is on the pitch, he is great as a person."
Saviola was part of the River Plate squad that lost to Barcelona in last year's FIFA Club World Cup final.