Barcelona and Netherlands legend Johan Cruyff believes Lionel Messi is "on his way" to football greatness and suggested the Argentinian's "pure technique" makes him a better propositon than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi and Ronaldo will do battle again on Saturday when Real meet Barca in the first of four Clasicos in 18 days at the Bernabeu.
The pair have been on opposing teams six times in their club careers and it is Messi who has regularly upstaged his Portuguese rival.
Two-time World Player of the Year Messi netted Barca's winner against Manchester United in the 2009 European Cup final, scored the opener in the Catalans' 2-0 win at the Bernabeu last season and pulled the strings in the 5-0 demolition of Real in November.
Ronaldo, in contrast, has yet to score against Barcelona and even missed a penalty for United at Camp Nou in the 2008 Champions League semi-final.
Debates about who is the better player have raged over the past few years and Cruyff, a former Barca player and manager, has now had his say on the duo - who have scored 88 goals between them this season.
"Yes, he's on his way," Cruyff said, when asked how close Messi is to greatness. "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, the same success."
The Dutch legend, who coached Barca to their first ever European Cup triumph in 1992, reckons the comparisons with Diego Maradona that have followed Messi throughout his career are fully justified.
"[Messi's] got qualities similar to Maradona, who was a player, too, who did a lot of individual stuff. People will connect a good player with the results they achieved in their career and Maradona of course won the world championship and that's what Messi didn't win and it will be [decided on] something like that. But for me, today, Messi is a great player."
But when quizzed on Ronaldo's credentials as one of the greatest ever players - among the likes of Pele, Maradona and Alfredo Di Stefano - Cruyff seemed less convinced.
"It's little more difficult, I think," Cruyff said. "All the people mentioned were players from the street and Ronaldo is more of a physical player, while the others mentioned are not physical players [but] pure technical players - pure technique."
Barcelona midfielder Xavi concurred with Cruyff's assessment that Messi is world class and claimed his team-mate is peerless in world football.
"I don't know if he's the best player in the history of the game, but right now, nobody comes near him," Xavi told BarcaTV. "If we are choosing the best player in the world, that's Messi. "On the pitch he's amazing. He has a unique personality. It's astonishing what he does."
Despite the adulation and awards stacking up for Messi, Ronaldo remains Real's key player and Merengues' general manager Jorge Valdano insists the club's prized asset is "not transferable" after recent comments from AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi hinting that the Rossoneri are interested in the Portuguese forward,
"Berlusconi is heating up the possibility of purchase," Valdano said. "[But] he is not transferable."