The Messi–Ronaldo rivalry is a football rivalry between fans of Argentinian forward Lionel Messi and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and supposedly between the athletes themselves. Having won a combined ten Ballon d'Or/FIFA Ballon d'Or awards (5 each), both are widely regarded not only as the two best players of their generation, but also regarded by many as the greatest of all time. Both players have regularly broken the 50 goal barrier in a single season and have scored over 600 goals each in their careers for club and country. Sports journalists and pundits regularly argue the individual merits of both players in an attempt to establish who they believe is the best player in modern football. It has been compared to past global sports rivalries such as the Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier rivalry in boxing, the Björn Borg–John McEnroe rivalry in tennis and the Ayrton Senna–Alain Prost rivalry in Formula One motor racing.
Some commentators choose to analyse the differing physiques and playing styles of the two while part of the debate revolves around the contrasting personalities of the two players: Ronaldo is sometimes described as someone of temperamental character while Messi is portrayed with reserved character. It could be the case that this is why Messi is considered trustworthier and more likable by the public, even though Ronaldo improved his reputation since 2013.
At club level, Messi and Ronaldo represented rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F., the two players facing each other at least twice every season in the world's most popular regular-season club game, El Clásico (among the most viewed annual sporting events), until Ronaldo's transfer to Italian club Juventus F.C. in 2018. Off the field, they are the face of two rival sportswear manufacturers, Messi of Adidas and Ronaldo of Nike, which are also the kit suppliers of their national teams and the opposite for their clubs. The two highest paid players in football, Ronaldo and Messi are among the world's best paid sports' stars in combined income from salaries, bonuses and off-field earnings. In 2016, Ronaldo was first on Forbes list of the best paid athletes, earning $88 million, with Messi being second at $81.4 million. They have the two biggest social media followings in the world among sportspeople with a combined 211 million Facebook fans, with Ronaldo having 122 million and Messi having 89 million. With a combined Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Ronaldo has 321 million to be the most famous celebrity on social media and Messi has 181 million excluding Twitter.
—Messi addresses his perceived rivalry with Ronaldo
In 2007, Ronaldo and Messi finished as runners-up to A.C. Milan's Kaká in both the Ballon d'Or, an award rewarded to the player voted as the best in the world by an international panel of sports journalists; and the FIFA World Player of the Year, an award voted for by coaches and captains of international teams. In an interview that year, Messi was quoted as saying "Cristiano Ronaldo is an extraordinary player and it would be brilliant to be in the same team as him".
They first played in a game together when Manchester United were drawn to play Barcelona in the 2007–08 UEFA Champions League semi-finals and were immediately pitted as major rivals. Ronaldo missed a penalty in the first leg, but United eventually advanced to the final via a Paul Scholes goal. At the end of the year, Ronaldo was awarded the Ballon d'Or and vowed that he would win the award again.
The 2009 UEFA Champions League Final was contested between Manchester United and Barcelona on 27 May 2009 at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Italy. The match, described as a "dream clash", was again hyped as the latest battle between the two, this time to settle who was the best player in the world; Ronaldo claimed he was the better of the two while Messi's club-mate Xavi sided with him. United manager Alex Ferguson was more diplomatic, praising both players as being amongst the world's elite talents. Messi, playing in a central role he was unaccustomed to so he would avoid a direct battle with United left-back Patrice Evra, scored Barcelona's second in a 2–0 victory with a header in the 70th minute. Meanwhile, Ronaldo was subdued for much of the game despite some early chances to score and his frustration eventually showed when he was booked for a rash tackle on Carles Puyol.
Relationship between Messi and Ronaldo
In a 2015 interview, Ronaldo commented on the rivalry by saying that "I think we push each other sometimes in the competition, this is why the competition is so high" while Ronaldo's manager during his time at Manchester United Alex Ferguson opined that "I don't think the rivalry against each other bothers them. I think they have their own personal pride in terms of wanting to be the best". Messi has denied any rivalry, saying that it was "only the media, the press, who wants us to be at loggerheads but I've never fought with Cristiano".
However, it is widely argued and documented that there's an atmosphere of tension between the duo, with Guillem Balagué claiming in Messi that Ronaldo refers to the Argentine counterpart as "motherfucker" behind his back, and Luca Caioli saying in his book, Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection, that according to his sources, Ronaldo heats up when watching Messi play. In response to claims that he and Messi do not get on well on a personal level, Ronaldo commented: "We don't have a relationship outside the world of football, just as we don't with a lot of other players", before adding that in years to come he hopes they can laugh about it together, stating: "We have to look on this rivalry with a positive spirit, because it's a good thing". On 13 November 2014, Ronaldo also threatened to take legal action over the remarks made by Balagué.
Awards and records
Throughout the existence of the rivalry, the pair have dominated awards ceremonies and broken a multitude of goalscoring records for both club and country, feats which have been described as "incredible", "ridiculous" and "remarkable". The rivalry itself has been described as one about records and reputation of the players, rather than one based in loathing.
Ronaldo is the UEFA Champions League all-time top goalscorer while Messi is second. The two had broken each other's record over the course of 2015 after Messi surpassed the previous record holder Raúl in November 2014. Ronaldo opened a gap in the 2015–16 season when he became the first player to score double figures in the group stage of the Champions League, setting the record at 11 goals. They are the first two players to score 100 goals in UEFA Champions League history.
- Club statistics
- As of 10 July 2018
- International statistics
- As of 27 March 2018
In recent years, it has been said that the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona has been "encapsulated" by the individual rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi, with neither player ever participating in a goalless El Clásico.
|Competition||Games played||Messi wins||Draws||Ronaldo wins||Messi goals||Ronaldo goals|
|Copa del Rey||5||1||2||2||0||5|
|Supercopa de España||5||2||1||2||6||4|
|Total official matches||35||16||9||10||22||19|
Last updated 6 May 2018
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Real Madrid insiders say that seeing Cristiano Ronaldo in front of the TV watching Messi play is priceless. When his agent Jorge Mendes is watching with him, he tries to calm him down by saying that people don’t understand anything about football, that the Barça No. 10 doesn’t deserve to be the best in the world.
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