Conversations debating the superiority of Cristiano Ronaldo over Lionel Messi, or visa versa, have raged on for the better part of a decade.
The careers of both of these sporting icons have been tracked side-by-side and analysed scrupulously since Messi scored that infamous header against a Manchester United team anchored by Ronaldo in the 2009 Champions League final in Rome.
By this point, Ronaldo had already won his first of 4 Ballon d’Or awards. His opponent, who would explode as a sporting wonder following that header, would win his first of 5 Ballon d’Ors in 2009, a year after Ronaldo was recognised as the world’s best player for the first time.
The rivalry between the two become a cultural norm from 2009 onwards after Ronaldo made his world record move to Real Madrid from Manchester United. The two masters of their craft couldn’t have their name uttered without mention of the other. While Lionel Messi would dominate the Ballon d’Or, winning an unprecedented 4 in a row (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), he couldn’t escape comparison with his Portuguese counterpart.
Messi would win one more Ballon d’Or in 2015, while Ronaldo would win another 3 in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Assuming Ronaldo or Messi wins the prize in 2018, that will mark 10 years of a sport dominated by just 2 individuals. It is a sort of dominance that has never been seen before and will probably never be seen again.
Unfortunately, rather than celebrate the fact that we as fans of the greatest sport in the world can bear witness to 2 of the greatest players of all time at their respective peaks, most of the attention remains focused on the debate of which one is superior.
Both players have achieved unprecedented success in their respective careers. They have shared a total of 7 Champions Leagues (Messi has 4, Ronaldo has 3), both have shared an astounding 12 domestic league titles (Messi has won 8 La Liga titles, Ronaldo has won 3 Premier Leagues and a La Liga title). As for individual achievements, not only have Messi and Ronaldo shared the past 9 Ballon d’Ors, but they have, together, scored over 900 goals in their careers.
It is this unparalleled success that has seen this rivalry persist. When Ronaldo scored his 100th Champions League goal, thus becoming the first player to achieve this feat, the attention on this monumental achievement was turned to arguments claiming that he is superior to Messi.
When Messi scored the winner in El Clasico with the last kick of the game, all the while becoming the highest goal scorer in the fixtures history AND scoring his 500th goal for the Catalans, arguments claiming that Messi is superior to Ronaldo resurfaced once again.
When Portugal, captained by Cristiano Ronaldo, won the 2016 European Championships in France, social media was buzzing with fans of CR7 claiming him to be superior based on him being able to win an international competition, something which Messi is yet to achieve. The debate never ends.
It has been said that one could not reach the level that they have without the other, that they make each other tick. It is difficult to argue against that viewpoint. After all, what happened when Ronaldo scored his 100th Champions League goal? Messi turned around and clinched El Clasico with the last kick of the game. What happened after that? Ronaldo went and scored a hat-trick in the semi final of the Champions League against Atletico to become the first player to score hat-tricks in consecutive Champions League knockout games.
It is as if they are intentionally fuelling the story by trying to one up each other as they go along. As far as we are concerned, the 2 are best friends behind the scenes, a revelation that would be quite satisfying: the subjects of the greatest rivalry in sport today being BFFs, laughing at Twitter debating who is better.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the 2 greatest players of their generation and, arguably, the 2 greatest football players of all time. Their legacies will forever be intertwined and compared with each other. Both have set a new standard of what to expect on the football pitch. They have both shattered records, raised the bar, and defied description with their other worldly performances. However, rather than celebrate the achievements of both, the question of superiority remains. It is a question that will never be answered in a way that will be able to satisfy everybody so all we can do is sit back and enjoy 2 all-time greats do what they do best – what a shame.