The two are almost impossible to split when it comes to goals, honours and assists, but Van Basten has firmly stated his view on the ongoing debate.
‘Cristiano is a great player, but those who say he is better than Messi know nothing about football, or they are saying it in bad faith,’ the 57-year-old told Corriere dello Sport.
‘Messi is one of a kind. Impossible to imitate and impossible to repeat. A player like him comes along every 50 or 100 years. As a kid, he fell into the football genius pot.’
The former AC Milan and Ajax icon, who won three Ballon d’Ors before injury led to early retirement at 28, has however insisted that despite his talent Messi is not even in the top three players of all-time.
The Argentine superstar may have won a record seven Ballon d’Or awards in his record-breaking career, as well as scoring over 800 goals for both club and country. But he is not ranked in Van Basten’s top three players of all-time or even the best Argentine player in history.
‘Pele, [Diego] Maradona and [Johan] Cruyff are for me the three greatest players in history,’ Van Basten told Marca.
‘As a kid I wanted to be like Cruyff. He was my friend. I miss him. Pele and Maradona were also incredible. ‘Messi is also a great player, but Maradona always had more personality in a team. Messi is not the one who puts himself at the front to go to war.’
Messi is just behind the top three with the likes of fellow great players such as Ronaldo, Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.
The Dutchman added: ‘I’m not forgetting Cristiano Ronaldo, [Michel] Platini or [Zinedine] Zidane.’